LUSAKA, Nov 25 (Reuters) – Canada’s First Quantum Minerals, which suspended copper output at its Bwana Mkubwa processing plant last month after running out of copper ore, has laid off 286 workers at the facility, union officials said on Tuesday.
Mundia Sikufele, the president of the National Union of Mining and Allied Workers (Numaw) also told Reuters a further 50 workers would be laid off at Kansanshi Mining Ltd., First Quantum’s copper mine in the country, due to the global financial crisis that has weakened metals prices.
The state-run ZNBC radio quoted other union officials as saying 26 workers at Chambishi Metals Plc, the country’s largest cobalt producer, had been sent on forced leave due to operational difficulties caused by weak metals prices.
“According to our numbers, 286 workers have been retrenched at Bwana Mkubwa since there has been no production, Kansanshi wants to send home 50 workers and the story is generally the same at all mines,” Sikufele said.
The mine ran out of copper ore this year, and has been relying on copper ore mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The DRC banned the export of copper ore to Zambia in 2007. Bwana Mkubwa shut down after copper ore stockpiles ran out. Officials of the copper mines were not immediately available for comment.
Mines and Minerals Development Minister Maxwell Mwale said the copper mines were citing unsatisfactory reasons for the job cuts and that it would be a violation of Zambian laws to sack employees without consulting the government.
“They (Bwana Mkubwa) should not be painting a gloomy picture when they depended on ore from the Congo to operate and no one can blame the (Congolese) for wanting to benefit more from their copper,” Mwale said.
Mwale said he would institute investigations on why the other mining firms wanted to lay off workers, saying copper prices were still good enough to sustain mine operations.
Sikufele also said the mining firms, which have differed with the government over new mining taxes introduced in April, were not sincere by blaming the current global financial crisis as one of reasons for cutting jobs.
“We are having discussions with them over these complaints (and job cuts), but they should not use the financial crisis as an excuse to cut jobs,” he said. “They made huge profits when the prices were high and they never shared the cake with workers,” Sikufele said.
(For full Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: http://africa.reuters.com/ ) (Reporting by Shapi Shacinda; editing by James Jukwey)