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Closure of Mopani shafts to cause 2,100 job losses

ABOUT 2,100 mine workers are going to lose jobs following the announcement by Mopani Copper Mines to close its Mindola North and Central shafts in Kitwe.

The revelations were made at a joint press briefing by unions across the sector held at Katilungu House, the headquarters of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia in Kitwe yesterday.

MUZ president Joseph Chewe disclosed that 600 direct Mopani employees would lose jobs as a result while 1,500 workers employed by contractors will also lose jobs.

Mopani has sunk three new shafts in Kitwe and Mufulira aimed at increasing the lifespan of the operations.

The new shafts that would be operated by the latest technology in mining mean that running old labour-intensive shafts is viewed not to be cost-effective.

However, the unions have objected to the proposals and asked Mopani management to surrender the assets to government so that another investor could be found to preserve jobs in the mining sector.

According to the unions, Mopani indicated that they have informed government of the decision.

“We have had meetings with Mopani also on the operation side and Mopani late last month informed us that they have a challenge in maintaining Mindola North shaft as well as Central shaft effective next month up to October 2019 and that they engaged government to relook at the operations of these two shafts. And that these two shafts are becoming more expensive to maintain them. Yesterday [Thursday] they called us to inform us about the decision they have taken concerning these two shafts,” Chewe said. “Mopani informed us that they will cease operations of Mindola North Shaft and Central Shaft, effective next month up to October 2019. So they expect to cease these operations up to October this year. As a union we also asked them what will happen to the workers and also to other associated operations, contractors. They said they have written a letter to government on the 3rd of My 2019, informing them of this development, this closure of this shaft and that the retrenchment will be done in phases…from our numbers and the numbers they told us, 600 workers will be affected if they find nowhere to deploy them. Of course the fate of contractors, they go. So this important information as a union we can’t keep it to ourselves, we have to inform the nation.”
Chewe said Mopani indicated that they informed the three ministries, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Mines and that they had put up a technical team that would continue to look at it and give a detailed report.
“But of course they have already taken a position so what will be the use of that report?” he wondered.

Chewe said the unions have also demanded to be added to the technical team reviewing the viability of the two shafts in view of the decision by the mine.

He said the technical committee must thoroughly give a report whether the shafts have outlived their usefulness or there was no economic material left to mine because the mines provided livelihood to employees and their families and the communities at large.

“So closing the mines will be disastrous because of the benefits that I have mentioned. Now, what is the position of the union on the retrenchments? We did tell Mopani that since MCM came on board in 2000 up to 2019 we have seen more retrenchment in 2015 and voluntary separations which is also continues to take root in Mopani and this is a concern to the union and we have said I think when you started with this issue of Mopani, they came up with the Mopani way from 2013 to 2023 that Mopani is building those three shafts, one in Mindola, the Sinclinorium shaft and the other one in Mufulira… That workers should tighten the belts and that come 2023 conditions will improve in Mopani,” he narrated. “But even before this programme comes to fruition, we have seen workers being moved and this is a concern. We should not continue to allow workers to be offloaded in that manner. We told them the unions will not be part of the agreement on retrenchments. Let all workers be deployed because Mopani needs to have responsibility over workers, it must not be a risk to continue working in Mopani because each time there is a problem it’s retrenchment.”

He said the unions would not allow any worker to lose employment as a result adding that the move by Mopani would result in 1,500 contract employees losing jobs.

“So this is the position that we have taken as a union. It’s a worrisome trend which has now engulfed Mopani. Retrenchment is coming day-by-day. If you look at the lifespan of Mopani, the last 19 years, they have offloaded quite a huge number into the streets so they must be responsible not to always to cause misery to the workers and to the community,” Chewe said.

And National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) president James Chansa said no union world-over has ever appended a signature on job losses.

“…but we want to mention to the nation that investment at the expense of jobs is not a good investment. Zambia is a mining economy, because it’s a mining economy we believe that the benefits must go to the Zambian people but if we begin hearing decisions that are meant to reduce labour then we get worried. As a union we have totally disagreed with Mopani to reduce labour. There is no union in the world that has put a signature on the job losses,” Chansa said.

“…we are not going to go with Mopani on this issue. It is a well-known thing that a lot of investment has been done in the mining industry and that production has gone up but what is worrisome is that employment has gone down…the mining industry has become a mourning house in Zambia today. This is unfortunate. Investors are using Zambia’s mineral wealth to enrich themselves.”

Mopani later in the afternoon released a statement stating that the two shafts in question have reached the end of their economic life hence the closure.

“The reason for the closure of these shafts is that they have reached the end of their economic life – their closure was always part of the plan as we commissioned the new shafts. However, the action is being taken sooner than originally planned because the company has limited resources and can no longer afford to operate these old and inefficient shafts…We anticipate that these measures will regrettably result in the loss of direct employee and contractor jobs. Mopani will engage with the unions and all affected employees and contractors to provide them with the appropriate support,” read the statement by MCM public relations manager Nebert Mulenga.

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