January 5, 2012

Miner strike called off as bosses backtrack

Workers at Zambia's largest copper mine ended a two-day strike after bosses pledged to grant all temporary staff permanent contracts and consider reducing employees' 12-hour shifts. Mine Workers' Union of Zambia (MWUZ) president Oswell Munyenyembe said: "The strike has been called off and we are going back to negotiate," urging patience during talks.
MWUZ members had before downed tools at the Kansanshi mine for a 20 per cent salary rise, permanent contracts and pensions for all, the cutting of the 12-hour shift to eight hours and a Christmas bonus. The open-pit mine is operated by Canadian transnational First Quantum Minerals (FQM), operating in Latin America, Europe, Africa and Australia. It is said that the stirek cost about £6.5 million a day.

Godfrey Msiska, Kansanshi Mine public relations manager, branded the strike illegal and said that, each day the mine is closed, "we lose production of about 700 tonnes of finished copper, that is $5m (£3.2m) in copper sales per day," with the government losing nearly £1m in tax. Labour Minister Fackson Shamenda subsequently declared that government mediation had resolved most issues. "The company also agreed to start paying the workers a 13th cheque starting from this year. The two parties will now go back to conclude salary negotiations," Shamenda affirmed.

However, as Union officials have furthermore warned, copper mining companies should brace themselves for more strikes this year unless they meet wage demands. Sikufela Mundia, president of National Union of Miners and Allied Workers, said copper mining companies must offer more than 11% pay increments to workers this year or risk widespread strikes which could paralyze the sector. "At the moment we are trying to see how we can resolve the stalemate at Kansanshi but other mine houses should prepare to meet our demands," he said, adding that under the previous government most mining companies wouldn't offer more than 11% because they had strong political backing.

Following the election of Michael Sata as Zambian president in September a wave of strikes have engulfed the country's mining sector, as workers agitate for pay increments. Mr. Sata had premised his campaigns on promises such as improving miners' conditions. (Sadocc)

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