MPs frustrated as Aurora, liquidators don't turn up

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Cape Town - MPs and officials from the Departments of Labour and Mineral Resources expressed frustration after Aurora Empowerment Systems and their provisional liquidators failed to turn up in Parliament today to detail what is being done to assist employees of Orkney and Grootvlei gold mines, which are in liquidation.

Chairperson of the mineral resources portfolio committee, Fred Gona, said he had spoken to the provisional liquidators last night, and they had informed him that they had only been notified on Friday that they had to attend the committee.

Aurora Empowerment Systems, which purchased the liquidated Pamodzi Orkney and Grootvlei mines in 2010, was itself liquidated in October last year and workers of the two mines have not been paid for three years.

The provisional liquidators were due to be at a workshop today so they could not attend, but had agreed to send something in writing, but Gona had told them that this wasn't satisfactory.

"This hampers the work we do, very seriously... We are not dealing with a simple thing here, we are dealing with lives that have been affected," he said.

The meeting, however, went ahead, with officials from both the Department of Mineral Resources and the Department of Labour briefing the committee on the state of the mines and workers' claims lodged against Aurora, respectively.

Kenny Fick, the Labour Department's provincial executive manager for Gauteng, said his department had received 468 new claims totalling R1.73 million from miners at Grootvlei.

The department had wanted to take this matter to the Labour Court, but that the appointment of provisional liquidators had halted the process, he said.

He said even though claims for unpaid wages had to be made to the court within 12 months of a worker becoming aware of non-payment, he was confident that the department had a strong case, because it had all been documented in various paperwork.

The new claims follow a recent court order that granted 1 287 miners from the Grootvlei mine a R2.03 million pay-out in December 2010, he said.

He said the department had worked with the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) to declare the miners technically unemployed as the mine was no longer functioning, and to ensure that miners could benefit from the fund.

He said the department had received 936 valid claims from workers.

A further 1 000 workers had earned in excess of the threshold of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, meaning they can't claim for UIF.

Fick said a large number of the 1 933 foreign workers who were also on the payroll of Aurora, had not applied for UIF, but that the department had collected their details to determine if they could be assisted

However, he said many of these foreigners had gone home while others may have been in the country illegally without work permits.

Not all those still occupying hostels are workers, some people were squatting there, he said.

The department's provincial executive manager for the North West, Andile Makapela, said following a court ruling that Aurora honour a R3.95m compliance order for the Orkney mine and pay 1 170 miners, the matter had been handed over to the provisional liquidators.

Andre Cronje, chief director of mineral regulation, said the department still needed to hear from the provisional liquidators as to whether Grootvlei would be sold as a going concern or not.

Last month, Gold One and Goliath Gold conditionally agreed to buy Grootvlei.

Cronje said the Orkney mine is, however, likely to be sold as a going concern.

The Grootvlei mine in Gauteng is flooding, and has regularly required subsidies over the last 20 years, because the value of minerals being mined has never been substantial enough to fund the pumping of water.

The water level in the Klerksdorp region and Eastern Basin - where Grootvlei is based - is 460m below surface, which the department said was still a safe depth.

The water is rising in the Eastern Basin, but officials said it would be contained at a certain depth by pumping water from the basin.

National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) parliamentary affairs head, Madoda Sambatha, commended the Department of Labour for taking the matter seriously.

Sambatha called on Parliament to make it a criminal offence for anyone who fails to pay employees' salaries and blacklist such directors.

Among other suggestions, he said the Insolvency Act should be amended to allow for workers to become the first creditors to be paid out when a company goes into liquidation.

Liquidators should also be compelled to secure education for the children of those workers whose company was under liquidation, while emergency social grants should also be made available to these workers.

He said the union had been told that a new buyer, China Africa Precious Mining, would take over the mine from provisional liquidators on Friday.

A memorandum of understanding had been negotiated to recall former employees once the mine starts preparing for operation.

He said following the recent death of a school boy who slipped and fell into an open mine shaft, the Department of Mineral Resources needed to improve security at the mine, even at non-operational mines.

Gona asked Sambatha and the union to submit their suggestions in writing on amendments to the Insolvency Act so that the committee could liaise further with the Department of Trade and Industry on these.

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