Mining companies owe R1.5 billion to workers who developed occupational illnesses like silicosis while on the job, according to Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi.
“I am here to pay back the money,” said Motsoaledi who added that the country’s Compensation Fund is facing a backlog of 500,000 claims by miner workers, some of whom have been waiting almost a decade for pay out.
South Africa has two legal systems for the payment of compensation for occupational diseases: the Compensation for Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act, which governs the Compensation Fund, as well as the Occupational Diseases in Mines and Works Act.
In order to speed up pay outs to miners, the Medical Bureau for Occupational Diseases, the Department of Health’s Compensation Commission for Occupational Diseases and eight major mining houses have partner to create one-stop centres to receive compensation claims and provide health. The project has been dubbed Ku-Riha, or “compensation” Tsonga.
Centres have also been opened in Kuruman, Northern Cape and Bekkersdorp, Limpopo. Carletonville’s centre opened a year ago and has screened 3500 miners to date.
Speaking at a Carletonville press conference today, Motsoaledi said the partnership had already led to the finalisation of 105,000 compensation claims by former miners. About half of all compensation claims stemmed from miners developing tuberculosis (TB) while on the mines.
Carletonville miner Oupa Sonop developed tuberculosis in 2010 and was admitted into hospital for a month. Despite being sent from pillar to post for almost five years, his compensation claim was recently paid out.
“I was initially told that they were not going to pay me because I was receiving full pay while in hospital,” he told Health-e News. “I was devastated after working for this company for 10 years, but I am very relieved and happy now that my family will benefit.”
Rodney Ehrlich from the Centre for Occupational and Environmental Health Research at University of Cape Town has posited that high burdens of silicosis, a lung condition arising from exposure to silica dust, and poor living conditions could play a role in high rates of TB among mineworkers.
Motsoaledi added that efforts are also being made to ensure that miner workers from neighbouring countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho and Mozambique are also paid out. As part of this, South Africa is working with the World Bank to develop a single database of former miners with claims.