Business Day, 20 November 2002, AIDS mining summit postponed, again

THE National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) has slammed a decision by government departments and the Chamber of Mines to "indefinitely" postpone an HIV/AIDS summit for the mining industry.

The union says third postponement raises questions about its commitment to combating the disease in the industry.

The union expressed its disappointment at the setback to the development of a unified approach by government, labour and business to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS, in an industry vulnerable to the disease.

Chamber executive manager Peter Bunkell denied that it had postponed the summit. He said the chamber shared the NUM's disappointment.

The mining industry was still committed to holding a tripartite HIV/AIDS summit and would cooperate with government and the union to set up another date for the summit, he said.

NUM spokesman Moferefere Lekorotsoana said the summit was initially planned for December last year but rescheduled to February. It was again postponed to November 26, and last week it was postponed indefinitely.

The decision to postpone the summit was taken without consulting the union, said Lekorotsoana. "What is of greater disappointment is that the labour and health ministries, who came late to the process, veto arrangements that are already at implementation stage."

Insiders say that the postponement was made because the health department was not ready. The health ministry referred enquiries to minerals and energy, which was not available for comment. The labour department was shocked to learn of the postponement as it was fully behind it, said spokesman Snuki Zikalala.

Lekorotsoana says the postponement means efforts to combat the disease would now be left to individual mining companies, instead of through an industrywide strategy.

Several mining companies have recently signed HIV/AIDS agreements with unions. Some of them make provision for free antiretroviral medicines to infected workers, among other services.