Hundreds of workers from IndustriALL affiliate, the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), from the Rosh Pinah branch, demonstrated against worsening health and safety standards at the Skorpion Zinc Mine, about 600 km from Windhoek, earlier this month.
The workers are demanding improved communication on safety issues at the mine, which is owned by Vedanta Zinc International. They want the mine to improve safety by reporting to workers conditions at the open cast mine including slope failures and pit wall structures, train workers on emergency evacuation procedures, and discipline managers who report for work drunk.
The MUN says the continued neglect of safety precautions is putting workers lives at risk. For instance, when there was a slope failure on 18 December 2017, the management seemed confused. This happened despite getting advice from experts on how to deal with slope failures and stabilizing the walls of the mining pit.
Further, workers were not being trained on necessary evacuation procedures in cases of emergency. According to the MUN, safety standards are falling as “it has become a norm that procedures and policies are ignored to increase production, and safety standards dropped leading to unsafe working conditions”.
Another threat to safety at the mine is drunkenness. The MUN suspects that managers refusing breathalyzer tests often came to work drunk contrary to the mine’s alcohol and drug abuse policy. One of the managers has since been suspended after workers cornered him to take an alcohol test which proved that he indeed came to work drunk.
Further, the union wants Skorpion to improve workers skills through training and for subcontractors, Basil Read, to employ more local staff at management level as well as provide personal protective equipment. Skilled workers should also be recognised through certification especially after attending courses on how to operate machines.
Says Paule-France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa:
“Safety at mines is non-negotiable, and mining companies must always ensure that standards are adhered to. Therefore, it is not acceptable for mining companies to sacrifice workers safety to increase production targets and profits.”