GOVERNMENT and the Mine Workers Union of Zambia (MUZ) have shared interests in trying to keep Chambishi Metals operational and hence the efforts to stop the institution from being closed.
This is hardly the time for miners to start agitating for salary increments which mining companies cannot afford.
The miners should care about maintaining jobs instead of pushing for wage increments in this tough economic climate when companies are struggling to stay afloat.
We want to advise the more than 200 miners from Mopani Copper Mines who marched to Katilungu House in Kitwe, the headquarters of MUZ, to protest over the seven percent salary increment which the giant mining firm has offered them, to think of their colleagues who are no longer in employment.
When companies are struggling with operational costs, it is not the time to start pushing for an increment that might not be sustainable.
We think that the most important thing is to ensure that companies are paying what is affordable and also able to keep operations going.
This is what both government and the union are fighting for – job security.
While the government is pushing the current management at Chambishi Metals to recapitalise and keep the operations going, the workers want a new investor altogether.
Chambishi Metals proposed putting the operations on care and maintenance for two years because of failing to secure concentrates to keep the company going. The problem has been compounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refusing to export their concentrates after establishing their own smelters.
Late last year, it emerged that mining companies had scaled down on operations because of a five percent import duty on concentrates. The mining companies claimed the five percent import duty was costly and chose to reduce and in some cases, to stop altogether the importation of the concentrates.
This seemed to have spurred the DRC to start its own smelters and now, they do not want to export copper concentrates. An unfortunate development with a cascading impact on the mining sector.
However, we think that government and the mining corporations need to sit and iron out such differences to avoid creating industrial shocks, which this economy can hardly afford.
For the past one year, the mining industry has gone through some tumultuous period beginning with the uncertainty of proposed tax changes from value added tax (VAT) to sales tax, with the latter being roundly condemned.
The instability of the exchange rate coupled with the prolonged load-shedding from the power company, have all had a negative impact on the sector.
Despite the VAT being maintained after overwhelming public outcry, the mining sector has continued to struggle with some companies threatening to lay off large numbers of workers.
This is what Government is trying to prevent by insisting that Chambishi Metals continue operations and retains the workforce.
Perhaps, the workers through their union, have more direct experience and know what is really obtaining on the ground, hence their suggestion for a new investor.
Job security is the most important factor that unions are most concerned with when handling labour matters involving a company faced with closure or in this case being put on care and maintenance.
MUZ feels that Eurasian Resource Group (ERG) must go because it has failed to run Chambishi Metals effectively but if Government wants them to continue, they must be subjected to integrity tests.
This was after Mines and Minerals Development Minister Richard Musukwa disclosed that Chambishi Metals had been directed to resume operations in the next three months in the wake of a number of local and international investors eyeing to take-over the company.
Mr. Musukwa said Government had rejected the plan by the mining firm to halt operations for two years due to operational challenges and that management had been asked to invest in a processing plant that would treat the kind of material the firm had.
Since Government is prepared to give a waiver in special cases, such as this one, it now just remains for the concerned parties to sit down.
Government is willing to be flexible on the five percent duty in so far as it affects Chambishi Metals, and we hope that management would take up this offer. If indeed the import duty on concentrates was a major factor, then the issue is on the way to being resolved.
Mr Musukwa assured that Government was ready to give a special waiver to the mining firm for it to remain operational.
Source: Daily Nation