EU backs IOM Southern Africa initiative on migrant mineworker rights

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the South African NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Mozambican Mine Workers Association (AMIMO) are working together to find sustainable solutions for migrant mineworkers and their families to access the social security benefits they are entitled, including healthcare, pension schemes and worker compensation.

There are a range of institutional and other barriers faced by thousands of current and former mineworkers – and their families – who originate from southern Mozambique and have worked in South Africa’s mines, sometimes undocumented or with fake identification, and often without formal contracts.

In response, IOM has launched a EUR 1.4 million project: “Voices from the Underground: Building the advocacy and human rights capacity of migrant mineworkers and their families in Southern Africa”, funded by the European Union.

In November, 2014, IOM and LHR began accepting legal claims from mineworkers in South Africa’s mining regions and from ex-mineworkers and their families in Mozambique’s southern provinces of Gaza and Inhambane. This was during a two-day campaign in Mozambique’s Gaza Province which drew in well over 200 people.

Legal training has also been provided to locally based AMIMO paralegals who, with ongoing support from LHR and IOM, will continue to provide legal assistance in southern Mozambique.

“Over half a billion dollars of unclaimed social security funds and compensation claims cannot be accessed by migrant mineworkers and their families from the Southern Africa region, many of whom have been waiting for years, even decades,” says project manager Jason Theede.

“This money represents a tiny fraction of the mining economy of South Africa, which is estimated at 20 trillion rand (USD 1.7 trillion), but could play a significant role in shaping the lives of mineworkers, their families and communities of origin. Making legal assistance available and working with mine workers to raise their voice and advocate together for sustainable solutions to this very complex situation is an important first step,” he says.

The Employment Bureau for Africa (TEBA) estimates 80,000 Mozambican mineworkers are currently employed in South Africa, around half of whom have informal contracts. According to AMIMO, as many as 40,000 Mozambicans have now returned home under precarious circumstances with limited access to social security and services.

This lack of access is due to a number of barriers, including: a lack of knowledge among mineworkers and families about their entitlements and ways/channels to access them; an un-navigable documentation and application process; a lack of coordination both within and between the South African and Mozambican governments; and an overly complicated remittance and unfavourable banking and currency exchange system. The decades-long backlog of claims and the difficulties of tracking individuals across borders add to these challenges.

The initiative is part of a wider IOM project that will continue through 2016. It aims to help miners achieve their economic potential through better awareness of their rights, improved health outcomes in relation to tuberculosis, silicosis and HIV, and reduced exposure to unfair or exploitative treatment.