Accidents and sickness at work are a big problem for workers. Every year 300 thousand workers get hurt at work. And many thousands of workers get sick because of dust, dangerous chemicals, heat and noise at work.
Only last month, 65 workers were killed in a big accident on a coal mine at Hlobane in Natal.
Many workers and their trade unions are worried about the dangers at work. They say many bosses don’t care enough about the health of workers.
Now the govenment has made a new law about health and safety at work. This new law is called the Machinery and Occupational Safety Act (MOSA). The government did not speak to the workers or their unions before they made this law.
Factory owners do not have to use the law yet. Later this year the government will tell the bosses to use the law in their factories.
Mines and explosive factories do not have to use the new law. Other factories can write to the government and ask not to use the law. Many factories wiII do this.
The new law called MOSA says many things about how to make factories safe. But many workers and worker leaders are worried about the new law. They say MOSA will help the bosses more than the workers.
They say workers should look at the new law. They should look at it carefully- so that they are ready when the bosses must use the law in the factories.
This is what the new law says.
Factory owners must make their factory safe to work in. (The new law does not say how they must make the factories safe).
All new machinery must be safe.
Workers in dangerous jobs must get clothing to protect them.
Workers must not pay for protective clothing.
The law also says that every factory must have safety representatives and safety committees. Workers and trade unions are worried about these safety representatives and committees. So what does the law say about them?
MOSA says all big factories must have safety representatives. Factories must have one safety representative for every 50 workers. Factories with under 20 workers do not need safety reps.
The safety reps must be people who work in the factory. They must check the factory once a month and tell the boss about any dangers in the factory.
The safety reps must also tell the boss if workers do not use safety clothing and safety equipment. Workers who do not use these can get a fine of up to R2000 or 6 months in jail or both.
The law is not clear about who chooses the safety representatives. Many factory owners think the law says they must choose the safety representatives. This is not true. The factory owners must only tell the government who the safety reps are. So workers can choose their own reps or the bosses can choose the reps because the law is not clear on this.
Trade unions say workers must try to choose their own reps. But workers can only choose their own reps when they have a strong trade union in the factory.
HEALTH AND SAFETY COMMITTEES
The law says every factory with more than 50 workers must have a safety committee. Factories must have one safety committee for every 100 workers. The bosses can have more committees than this if they want to.
All safety reps must be members of the safety committee. The safety commitee can ask doctors and engineers to join the safety committee.
Again the law does not say the bosses must choose the people for the safety committee. The bosses must only tell the government who the members of the safety committee are.
The safety committees have no real power. They can only ask the bosses to do things to make the factory more safe. They can also ask the factory inspectors to do things about stopping accidents and sickness in the factory.
But the government has very few inspectors. One inspector must visit nearly 1000 factories. So the government will not check the factories very often.
The government will tell the factory owners to start using MOSA later this year. But many factories are already using MOSA. Three out of ten factories on the Witwatersrand are using the law. And in most of these factories the bosses and not the workers chose the safety reps and safety committees.
Worker organizations do not like this. They say workers suffer the most from accidents and sickness at work. So workers must choose their own safety reps. For example: In England all safety reps are chosen by the workers and not by the bosses.
One big union, the African Food and Canning Workers Union (AFCWU) says it does not like health and safety committees. They say only the worker leaders (shop stewards) must talk for the workers about health and safety. This union says new health and safety committees can divide the workers.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) also says workers know a lot about accidents – workers suffer from accidents every day. NUM also says workers must choose their own leaders to talk to the bosses about accidents at work.
If mine bosses spoke to worker leaders, maybe the 65 workers would not have died at Hlobane.