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ZCTU won’t support Mopani ‘rubbish’ – Mukuka

ZAMBIA Congress of Trade Unions secretary general Cosmas Mukuka says union officials present at the meeting between Mopani Copper Mines and workers have been given clear instructions not to support rubbish void of labour laws.

On Tuesday, Mopani Copper Mines explained that the decision to put the mine on care and maintenance starting tomorrow is as a result of the critical disruptions to international mobility, transportation and supply chains arising from COVID-19.

But government through mines minister Richard Musukwa has objected to the move by the mining company daring the Glencore-owned mining giant to leave ‘if they have failed to run the mining operations in Zambia’.

Musukwa accused MCM of fishing reasons to lay off some 11,000 employees, arguing that there’s no “Act of God” for the company to declare a force majeure leading to a care and maintenance.

Mopani has, however, assured permanent Zambian employees including those in management would continue receiving their base salaries for the period the mine would be under care and maintenance.

“Mopani Copper Mines Plc held a number of meetings with Government Ministries on 6 April 2020 in which it provided an update of its comprehensive operational review. The operating, regulatory and macro-economic environments remain very challenging and have continued to place significant pressure on the business,” said MCM public relations manager Nebert Mulenga, in a statement. “In addition to the impacts of a rapid decline in the copper price, Mopani’s situation has been further impacted by the critical disruptions to international mobility, transportation and supply chains arising from COVID-19. Mopani has had to place a number of projects it was in the process of commissioning on hold until key personnel are able to travel to site. In the circumstances, and following consultation with its majority shareholder and funder, Mopani can no longer continue operating its mining operations and will transition those mining operations to care and maintenance (C&M) with effect from 8 April.”

Addressing the media at the ZCTU headquarters in Lusaka yesterday, Mukuka said the labour union is concerned that there are some employers who have sent their employees on unpaid leave.

He warned employers abrogating the labour laws not to take the law in their own hands.

Mukuka said the situation at Mopani is like chasing a dog with a bone but his union awaits to see if the canine will drop the mandible and allow the workers to feast on it.

“As we are speaking today, Mopani is meeting its workers and the unions there in trying to do what is not even listed above so we are waiting for the feedback of that meeting… our union leaders are in the meeting right now and in the next two hours we should get a feedback of what management wants to do to send the workers on forced leave and even to terminate their employment,” he said. “The other option is to put the company on care and maintenance so we need to see what comes of that meeting because our leaders have gone with full instructions not to support the rubbish but see that the best comes out of that.”

And Mukuka said following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic the Tripartite Consultative Labour Council (TCLC) resolved that employers should consider granting employees annual leave with full pay as provided in Section 36 of the employment code Act No.3 of 2019.

He said in the event that the employee has not accumulated the required number of leave days to warrant annual leave, the employer should consider to grant the employee annual leave deductible from the leave days of the employee that would subsequently accrue by virtue of the employee continuing in employment.

“That if option 2(i) above is not feasible, the employer should consider sending the employee on forced leave with basic salary as provided in Section 48(1) of the employment code Act No.3 of 2019,” Mukuka said.

He said if that option was not feasible, “the Minister [of Labour] may, upon compelling evidence of failure by the employer to comply with the above options, consider issuing a Statutory Instrument to grant forced leave without pay on a case by case basis”.

Mukuka also said employers opting for redundancy should be ready to comply with all the requirements of the law as regards redundancy as provided in Section 55 of the employment code Act No. 3 of 2019.

He said TCLC agreed to consider more mitigating measures after an assessment of the situation by the end of April.

“As such we are concerned that there are some employers who have gone further to send workers on unpaid leave without following the provisions of the employment code Act No.3 of 2020. Therefore, we warn such employers not to take the law into their own hands but we emphasise on dialogue with the respective trade unions in the affected sectors so that we arrive at amicable options,” Mukuka said. “Much as we sympathise with the affected businesses, we also emphasise the need to follow the provisions of the law as our guide to make correct decisions.”

He also said ZCTU was concerned that truck drivers being quarantined for 14 days as required by the regulations, are doing so at their own cost.

“Therefore, we urge the authorities and the employers to ensure that the drivers being quarantined are in a healthy environment and that they are provided with all the basic necessities required to do so,” Mukuka said. “For this reason, we thank the government for securing the University of Zambia hostels as one of the designated places for quarantine. Generally, we acknowledge the scale of the challenge before us and we are in support of the multi-stakeholder approach to control further escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, we urge all stakeholders to recognise that we have existing legislations and international protocols that we must respect as we put our efforts together in addressing the challenges of this pandemic.”

ZCTU also urged its affiliate unions in all sectors of the economy to be vigilant and ensure that there is no violation of workers’ rights as a result of the measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.

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