THE Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ) has vowed to block attempts by government to bring Vale, a Brazilian copper mining company to operate in Zambia because it has no regard for human rights.
During a press briefing at Katilungu House in Kitwe yesterday, MUZ president Rayford Mbulu urged the government to draw lessons from the privatisation of Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines (ZCCM), which he said had left miners still going through turmoil and torment because the process had not been consultative.
"Recently, government through the President, His Excellency Mr Rupiah Bwezani Banda took an effort to bring in the Brazilian President. From the information that appeared in the media, government is striking investment partnership deal with Brazil and about US $600 million is supposed to be pumped into this country's mining operations," Mbulu said. "We have lots of information about Brazil and Brazilian investment. From Brazil emerges Vale which is the second-largest producer of copper in the whole world. But Vale has got the worst human rights records in as far as investment in the mines is concerned."
Mbulu said much as there had been massive attraction of investment in the mining sector, the question of credibility of the investors that were being brought remained unanswered.
He said the other question that still lingered on concerned the workers and communities' benefits from the investment.
Mbulu said Vale, which had employed people under the United Steel Workers in Canada had subjected its employees to serious violations.
"Vale has no respect for collective bargaining. They unilaterally impose conditions of service on workers. Our comrades from United Steel Company have been on strike for over 12 months and Vale has been so stubborn. They have not even accommodated the union," he said.
Mbulu said much as it was important to attract investment, it was equally important to exercise caution and ensure that consensus was established through a consultative process before settling for any one investor.
He said MUZ was of the firm belief that the Brazilian investor that would be coming into Zambia was Vale because the company was also conducting prospective processes in Mozambique and Tanzania, and it wanted to grow its presence in the southern African region.
Mbulu said it was better for the country's copper resources to remain in the ground than allow Vale to come and extract them because posterity would judge the current generation harshly.
"If we lack ideas to extract our copper, it is better for it to remain in the ground so that our children can come and extract it. If Vale can do what they are doing in Canada which is a First World country, what about Zambia which is a Third World country?" he asked.
Mbulu said Zambia had no capacity to handle Vale.
He said MUZ would not keep quiet about economic activities unfolding in the country, especially those involving mining.
Mbulu described Vale as rigid and bad investors that had no hearts for workers.
And Mbulu urged politicians to move from the luxuries of their offices and see the kind of torment mine workers were being subjected to.
He said leaders must understand that they were answerable to the people that put them in office, and not investors.
Mbulu complained that it was sad and devastating that labour at Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) had been relegated to nothing while the government sat back and watched.
He said KCM, as the second-largest employer from the government had begun sub-contracting major jobs, and it was clear that their ultimate objective was to declare some of the workers redundant at an opportune time.
He said the open pit at KCM used to employ 1,000 people but 75 per cent of operations had been transferred to a contractor and all those that used to work at the open pit had been integrated into other operations.
Mbulu said 50 per cent of mining at KCM had been contracted out.
"We could be window-dressing when ultimately our plans could be to retrench these workers. Secondly, some of the mine workers who have been transferred to contracts may not be properly remunerated like their friends. We're creating status apartheid," he said.
Mbulu said displaced workers may be subjected to mediocre salaries and lukewarm conditions of service.
He said MUZ recently received a notice that even the concentrator at KCM had been leased to LL Smith, an Australian company.
Mbulu said the 149 workers at the concentrator had been given an option of either joining a contract or parting company through redundancy.
He said even the labour commissioner was notified about the matter two months ago and ordinarily, he was expected to brief the minister of mines who would in turn brief the President.
However, Mbulu said it was surprising that nothing had been said on the matter.
Meanwhile, Mbulu condemned the proliferation of splinter unions in the mining sector, saying these reduced the bargaining strength of mine workers.
Mbulu reiterated the intentions by MUZ and the National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) to merge into one union.
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