Mining jobs are gone and won’t come back


About 2,100 mine workers are going to lose jobs following the announcement by Mopani Copper Mines to close its Mindolo North and Central shafts in Kitwe.
According to MUZ president Joseph Chewe 600 direct Mopani employees would lose jobs as a result while 1,500 workers employed by contractors will also lose jobs.
“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,” says Chewe.
The unions are in a helpless situation. There’s almost nothing they can do. It’s too late to do anything meaningful. They had been sleeping for too long to know what has hit them.
Edgar Lungu has made empty promises to create a million jobs, vowing to reverse the country’s downward employment trajectory.
In previous editorial comments we have shown how his promises to create a million jobs will be a tall order. Here, we introduce another reason why Edgar’s one million jobs will face an uphill battle: automation.
The problem facing the mining industry is not unique: Automation is rapidly reducing employment in mining and manufacturing. Across a wide range of industries, from car manufacturing to computing, robots or artificial intelligence are increasingly taking over roles traditionally performed by humans. The same is true for copper mining in Zambia.
Mining industry retirements will continue despite Edgar’s promise for more jobs.
Automation has been eating into mining jobs over a long period of time.
One of the early harbingers of automation in mining was the shift from underground mines to the open pit mines. Open pit mining is less labour-intensive and more automated than traditional underground mining.
In the next decade, the mining industry will likely lose even more jobs to automation.
The mining industry is really primed for automation. It is highly capital intensive, pays relatively well, and buys expensive equipment. The industry has already adopted various automated technologies, including autonomous haul trucks and loaders; semi-autonomous crushers, rock breakers, and shovel swings; automated drilling and tunnel-boring systems; automated long-wall plough and shearers; autonomous equipment monitoring; and GIS and GPS technologies. All of these technologies are already in use, and their deployment will be ramped up in the next 10–15 years.
Not all of these automated technologies will have a similar impact on mining employment. Autonomous haul trucks, for instance, will have a greater impact in a relatively short time compared to, for instance, the adoption of GIS and GPS technologies.
Automation is likely to replace 40–80 per cent of workers in a mine, with newer mines and those with many years of life left most susceptible to automation.
In the end, mine workers’ faith in Edgar’s one million jobs promise doesn’t matter much: mining jobs are going to continue declining. Given that stark reality, Edgar must review his one million jobs promise and focus his energy on crafting policies that would ensure a better life for our people.
The mining industry is changing dramatically, with job losses mounting continually. Automation will just add to the pressure the industry faces from a variety of forces. Taking care of affected mine workers will require big-picture thinking on the part of the Edgar and his minions.

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