Glencore denies union claim S. Africa smelter workers had fake permits

Glencore Lion smelter. Credit: Glencore Operations SA

Glencore on Friday refuted statements from one of South Africa’s biggest mining unions alleging that the company had given out inadequate work permits, which led to the arrest of employees during a nationwide coronavirus lockdown.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) had earlier said in a Friday press statement that police took workers at the Lion ferrochrome smelter in Steelpoort into custody because “fake” permits, issued by the mining giant, lacked a company stamp.

Glencore said the workers were escorted to a local police station, but that all their work permits were valid. The company said it “deplores” NUMSA’s allegations.

“The South African Police Services (SAPS) allowed the employees to return home as there were no legal grounds to detain or arrest them,” Glencore said in a statement.

“The Company and its employees did not contravene covid-19 regulations and furthermore confirms that the permits of the aforementioned employees are valid in accordance with the travel protocol.”

South Africa has been under a strict lockdown to prevent the spread of covid-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, since March 27. Only essential workers such as healthcare professionals, and those involved in growing, transporting or selling food, are allowed to travel.

The disagreement is illustrative of wider concerns over the mining sector, which President Cyril Ramaphosa last week allowed to start operating at up to 50% capacity despite an ongoing lockdown on all but essential services.

“As NUMSA we have been on record questioning why our government rushed to allow the mining sector to begin resuming operations early,” the union said.

The police could not immediately be reached for comment.

(By Helen Reid and Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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