South Africa’s mines were given the greenlight to ramp up operations to 100% from 1 June 2020, but an estimated 45 000 foreign workers are yet to return back to work.
The Minerals Council South Africa senior executive for health, environment and legacies Niks Lesufi said that roughly 10% of South Africa’s 450 000 mining industry employees are foreign nationals, the majority mainly from Mozambique and Lesotho.
While it is difficult to tell how many of these foreign nationals remained within South Africa’s borders during the national lockdown, an initial 9 500 foreign nationals will be brought back to South Africa, starting next week.
The process of bringing the foreign national employees back to South Africa is being led by the Council with the assistance of Teba – an organisation that provides a range of employee-related services to the mining industry – as the implementing agency.
The foreign nationals will be transported from their homes to a central facility within their home countries where they will first be screened. They will then be transported back into South Africa where they will undergo a strict 14-day quarantine period before being allowed to return to work. The discharge of employees from the quarantine facilities and induction process back onto the mine will be undertaken by the respective mining companies.
The Council expects the return of foreign national employees to take three months.
So far, only about half of South Africa’s mining workforce has returned to work. According to the Council’s COVID-19 dashboard, a total of 227 000 mine workers have been screened before returning to work, with 7 461 tests conducted and 527 cases detected. There have been 72 recoveries and one employee with a co-morbidity has died.
Moreover, special measures need to be taken to protect vulnerable employees and to mitigate the risk of those employees contracting COVID-19. These include people who are over 60 years old and people with underlying medical conditions or co-morbidities.
Despite mines being allowed to operate a full capacity, many mining companies have opted for a phased return to work of employees and a phased ramp up to steady-state production, specifically in underground operations where maintaining social distancing among employees is a challenge.