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Madagascar: Sherritt workers attempt suicide after being fired

12 June, 2015Two workers at Sherritt International’s multi-billion dollar nickel project in Madagascar have attempted suicide after being among 1,100 workers that were sacked without warning last week. Tragically, one of the workers died after taking her own life. Another worker is in hospital after a failed attempt.  

Sherritt, a Canadian multinational, runs the Ambatovy nickel mining and processing project in Madagascar, where it is the majority shareholder. Ambatovy is the largest finished nickel and finished cobalt operation from lateritic ore in the world.

On 3 June, Sherritt unexpectedly announced it would be firing 1,100 workers at Ambatovy. The retrenchment at Ambatovy represents 12 per cent of direct and indirect workers employed at Sherritt globally.

When workers turned up to the Ambatovy plant on Friday 5 June, they were turned away and told they had lost their jobs. Some were even stripped of their work clothes and made to walk home barefoot.

The short-notice of the sackings has led to a desperate situation for workers and their families, many of whom have taken out loans to build homes on condition of employment at the mining company. The sacked workers have been offered just one month’s redundancy pay.

Only last October Sherritt proclaimed that Ambatovy would be saved from ten per cent job cuts affecting its other operations around the world including Cuba, Spain and Pakistan, marking the Madagascan mine as their top priority after an US$ 7 billion investment.

Ambatovy performance has been rated as excellent for 2014 and the company reported an 11 per cent increase in revenue from Ambatovy for the first quarter.

Production targets were met in March ahead of schedule despite two weeks of closure due to technical problems, as well as a 17-day strike at the extraction site in Moramanga. Sherritt also reported that April’s production was not affected by another 10-day strike at the Tamatave plant.

In May, the company declared that the continued fall of nickel price in the world market has had an adverse effect on its profits, and that the strikes and two week closure of the plant in Ambatovy contributed to the decline in profits.

Trade unions reject the Sherritt’s claims that industrial action affected profits and say the mass lay-offs are in callous retaliation for the worker’s attempts for equal pay between local and foreign staff and protests against the company’s human resources department over 50 cases of unfair dismissals.

Following a press conference called by Ambatovy management, local media aggressively attacked trade unions for contributing to the financial deficit at the company and the job losses. Lack of access for trade unions to financial information at Ambatovy prevents a genuine assessment of whether the sudden decision to terminate 1,100 jobs is due to financial reasons or is in reprisal for earlier strikes.

Trade unions claim that several procedures required by national labour legislation have not been followed in deciding and implementing the retrenchment plan.

IndustriALL Global Union has mining affiliates in Madagascar. IndustriALL’s director of mining, Glen Mpufane, said:

“We extend our deepest sympathies to the family of the Sherritt worker who took her own life. It’s evident that the fate of more than a thousand mine workers is of no consequence to management, whose only concern is profit. IndustriALL Global Union calls upon the government of Madagascar to act in the interest of workers. Worker consultation and a redundancy plan are required by law in the country. If this had been respected perhaps the life of the worker would have been saved.”