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S. Africa: De Beers Unaffected by Mining 'Safety' Strike

Diamond mining considered to be safer than others

Dec 4, 2007 11:18 AM   By Avi Krawitz
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RAPAPORT... Production at De Beers mines was not affected by a one day strike by South Africa's mine workers. The strike was called in protest to safety standards at the country’s gold, platinum, and diamond operations.

More than one quarter million workers reportedly downed their tools on Tuesday. So far in 2007 mining accidents have accounted for the death of more than 200 workers, whereas in 2006 the number stood at 199.

“The effect of the strike has been minimal and contingency plans were in place to address any areas that might have been affected,” said De Beers spokesperson, Tom Tweedy, in an email to Rapaport News. “None of our six mines closed.”

Tweedy could not confirm how many of De Beers workers participated in the strike adding that any absent workers would be related to on a “no work, no pay, no consequences” basis.

Tweedy said De Beers has 6,000 employees in South Africa, of which 2,800 are members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM,) which organized the strike.

NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka, told Rapaport News that while the strike had been deemed a success in terms of the financial damage it affected the mining houses, it would only be able to measure whether its demands had been met in the longer term.

NUM is seeking that mining companies invest more money to ensure the safety of their workers, and that negligent mine managers be prosecuted in the event of an incident.

Seshoka said, however, that of the three industries most affected by the issue – gold, platinum and diamonds – the diamond mines had the better safety record, noting that no diamond-related fatalities had been reported recently.

“The most dangerous is gold where South Africa has some of the deepest mines in the world,” he said.

Tweedy agreed noting that diamond mines were generally a lot shallower in South Africa than gold mines and therefore had a far better safety record.

“We are happy to confirm that there have been no fatalities on any on our mines in South Africa,” he said. According to De Beers’ safety measure, ‘the lost-time frequency rate,’ Tweedy added that the company’s safety record was improving each year.

“There are endless safety initiatives and embedded systems reinforcing at every turn the importance of safety. The company annual and half yearly results are headlined by the safety [record] before the financials, if that indicates the priority it carries,” Tweedy said.

In contrast with previous NUM strikes, which traditionally revolve around wage issues, observers noted that the Tuesday event enjoyed support from all sides, including the mining companies, government and the chamber of mines.

Seshoka responded however that, “Not everyone supported the strike. They support the idea of mine safety. We’ll see in a few months time whether they are willing to act on this,” he said.
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Tags: De Beers, Government, Mining Companies, National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), Production, South Africa
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