JOHANNESBURG - More than 200 employees at Lanxess Chrome mine in Rustenburg have staged an underground sit-in to protest against the sexual harassment and victimisation of a female worker.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) said on Friday that its members had been underground for days without food and clean water to demand that management immediately suspend and discipline the alleged perpetrator.
The union has also called for the mine’s human resources manager to be suspended for failing to provide a conducive and caring work environment for victims of sexual harassment and for colluding with the perpetrator.
Numsa spokesperson Phakamile Hlubi said on Friday that the alleged perpetrator had never been suspended and no disciplinary action had been taken against him, despite the incident being reported in August last year.
“The management of the company has been reluctant to deal decisively and discipline him for harassing the worker,” said Hlubi.
The underground sit in had begun on Wednesday. Hlubi alleged that the mine captain had tried to demand sexual favours from the woman in exchange for a full-time position.
“She refused his advances, and exposed him. To make matters worse, management is pressurising her to withdraw the case and they are unwilling to take action against the mine captain.
“This has angered our members who are now staging a sit-in underground as a result,” Hlubi said.
A Lanxess spokesperson said the company took these developments seriously.
“We have repeatedly made clear the company’s availability to discuss all matters once the workers are back on surface, but that we do not engage with colleagues while they are underground.
“Therefore the main focus currently is on resolving this situation quickly and safely and bringing all employees back to the surface, well and safe. Meanwhile, supply of potable water and fresh air underground is maintained,” said the spokesperson.
Numsa’s Hlanganani regional secretary, Jerry Morulane, charged that Lanxess was not a caring employer for refusing to engage with employees, despite them being underground.
Morulane also said sexual harassment against female employees was rife in the mining industry. “In the past the mining industry was dominated by males and cases of sexual harassment have picked up since women entered the industry. For example, shift bosses and mine captains take advantage of women,” said Morulane.
In November 2015 the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand submitted evidence of gender-based violence in mines to the UN Commission on Human Rights.
“The phenomenon is occurring in part due to the regulation that requires a percentage of all mineworkers to be female. This small percentage, however, means that women are in a minority as underground workers and, as such, are extremely vulnerable to sexual violence,” the centre said.
The centre said contributing factors included gender norms in mining, lack of security and a lack of policies around gender-based violence in mining.