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3,000 jobs lost expose precarious working conditions in Zambia’s copper mines

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16 May, 2019Glencore’s Mopani Copper Mine announced that it will close two shafts and retrench 600 permanent workers and a further 1,500 from contracted companies, and Zambian unions are angry.

While Mopani says the shafts are old and costly to maintain, the unions say the mining companies don’t care about job security. The current global dialogue between IndustriALL Global Union and London Stock Exchange (LSE) listed Glencore is meant to improve industrial relations and the mine closures are a test of Glencore’s commitment. The announcement is a cause of concern for IndustriALL which expects Glencore to be transparent in its engagement with unions, specially to mitigate the impact of the closures on mineworkers and communities. 

On Vedanta Resources’ Konkola Copper Mine, also listed on the LSE, the unions say it is better for the company to resume operations instead of mothballing the shafts.  Mining operations at Nchanga underground and open pit mines stopped in January resulting in the retrenchment of 905 workers. The mining sector employs over 65,000 workers, 30,000 directly and 35,000 through contractors. However, the contractors employ workers under precarious working conditions on short contracts, and low wages and benefits with an appalling adherence to health and safety standards which has led to deaths and injuries.

 

At a press conference with two other Zambian unions, NUMAW and UMUZ, on 10 May, Joseph Chewe, the president of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia, which is affiliated to IndustriALL, said:

“Mopani Copper Mine should ensure that the affected workers are redeployed to other operations. It’s sad that it is now a risk to work for Mopani because of the uncertainty and job insecurity. The claim that the mine is investing in the future is hollow as this is being done at the workers’ expense. Workers are targeted in cost cutting measures by management whenever there is a challenge. To protect workers’ interests the unions are demanding to be part of the technical team that will inspect the shafts.”

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining, said the multinational companies should implement fair labour practices:

“The era of discarding mine workers who toiled for many years digging valuable minerals from which the mining companies enjoyed profits and sending them home with a pittance has to come to an end. Mining companies must act responsibly by either reassigning workers to other shafts or paying fair compensation for the job losses. Workers must not be retrenched into poverty as has happened in the past.”