October 22, 2010

Miners shot at by mine owners

Twelve miners were shot at the Chinese-owned Collum Coal Mine, in the Sinazongwe District of southern Zambia on October 15, while protesting against low wages and poor conditions. The miners shot at were injured, two of them were in a critical condition. The miners had not been paid their salaries for the 11 days in September they were asked to stay away from the mine while there was no work to be done. According to the Chinese Collum Coal Mine employees’ representative Ebby Siamuvwele, the workers operated without having leave days, sick leave, and there had been no written condition of service. Mr Siamuvwele also said they got their money through a window rather than from a bank and the Chinese manager beat them while they were on duty with impunity.

Collum Mine Ltd. supplies coal to mines in the mineral-rich Copperbelt region and to Zambia’s largest cement producer, Lafarge. Marketing manager Danny Law called the shooting “an accident,” and claimed that the two Chinese supervisors who fired the shots had been attacked before.

One of the victims said that a group of miners assembled to discuss and decide what to do about their grievances regarding their conditions of service. When the two supervisors saw the workers gathered outside the gate, they came out of their offices with shotguns and opened fire on them. A Zambian police spokesman said, “The workers were protesting against the poor working conditions when managers using shotguns started to shoot aimlessly, not in the air.” The two supervisors have since been arrested and charged with attempted murder.

In the meantime, the Chinese embassy in Lusaka directed Collum’s management to pay the medical bills for the twelve miners. It also told the management to pay the disputed September wages and to arrange “negotiations between the two parties for a fair and decent salary settlement”. Moreover, Government has constituted a committee to look into the plight of miners at the Mine. Home Affairs Minister Mukondo Lungu said that the committee which would comprise Labour officers, the Ministry of Mines, the Chinese management, the Gemstone Allied Workers Union, and the workers’ representative would address the problems on 27 October at the Ministry of Labour and Social services in Lusaka. Mr Lungu also appealed to both the management and employees to work in harmony as the discussions were going on and urged the Chinese investors not to use firearms on innocent people. He said government was alarmed over the shooting and President Rupiah Banda has conveyed his sympathy to all the affected employees. Government would engage the Chinese investors to abide by the Zambian laws than resorting to the use of a gun, Lungo said.

The shooting at Collum was not the first incident involving Chinese-owned mines in Zambia. In 2005, an explosion at a plant owned by China Nonferrous Metal Mining Group, on the same site as the Chambishi Copper Mines, killed 46 miners. A government inquiry found the management responsible for disregarding safety measures at the plant, but the company was allowed to carry on working. In 2006, Chinese managers at Chambishi shot at least six miners during a wage protest. The investigation into this shooting was not made public. In 2008, the water supply was polluted in Mufulira in the east of Zambia by the Mofani copper mine, putting many residents into hospital. Mining has established Zambia in the top 10 of the most polluted countries in the world. (Lusaka Times / SADOCC)

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