Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Collum mine heeds directive to improve working conditions

Collum mine heeds directive to improve working conditions
By Sandra Lombe, Chiwoyu Sinyangwe and Darius Kapambwe
Tue 02 Nov. 2010, 03:59 CAT

THE Chinese management at Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe have complied with the government’s ultimatum to improve working conditions for the workers.

And the Mine Workers Union of Zambia (MUZ) is today expected to sign a collective agreement with the owners of Collum Coal Mine in Sinazongwe to help improve working conditions.

Meanwhile, National Union of Commercial and Industrial Workers (NUCIW) deputy general secretary in charge of finance and administration Adams Chipeta has demanded the closure of Collum Coal Mine pending resolution of all the unresolved safety concerns.

The government recently gave the mine management an ultimatum to improve the conditions of service for the workers by October 30, 2010 following the shooting of 11 employees after they protested over poor conditions of service.

Speaking yesterday at provincial minister Elijah Muchima’s office, Shaft Three director Xu Jianrui said they would abide by the government's directive.

“We shall follow the law of Zambia,” he said.

He said management would also help the injured miners.

“This story shooting incident is first and the last one...No more. We can promise,” he said.
Xu said they would change the design of the mine so that water from their operations did not go into the stream.

“We will put affordable toilets underground to keep it clean,” said Xu.
And Muchima said he was happy that Collum mine management had complied with the directive.
“Our colleagues the Chinese directors at the mine have complied with the orders and are now working with the Ministry of Labour on conditions and they have agreed to comply with the conditions and health,” he said.

“But I was not happy with the director Xu; he nearly refused to come to our office. I have mentioned he should not confuse our provincial administration. He has apologised and said they will oblige,” he said.

Muchima said the government had enjoyed good relations with China for a long time.

“We are people of laws and we have to abide. They have to make the environment conducive...underground toilets to make it safe for the miners, including uniforms. They are going to comply by all laws, labour, health, mines. We want to make sure they are not to blame for cholera outbreak. We shall have our eye on this mine,” he said. “Other companies are doing well in the province. I was at Fallsway Timber. The conditions are excellent; their workers are getting between K295,000 and K3.5 million. There is water, lunch allowance, gender balance.”

And Muchima said the injured miners were being looked after and given food.

“They are working on a package. The pupil will be supported in his education for three years and make sure he is strong and fit,” he said.

“We are happy they have taken steps. People will be paid according to the law.”

Muchima said he would visit the mine on November 13 to check on the situation and the victims.
“I wanted to go tomorrow today but they are finalising with labour office. Politicians should not get a mile out of it. It’s something that happened which is unfortunate,” said Muchima.

And MUZ general secretary Oswell Munyenyembe said the union wanted to step in to help improve the conditions of service at the mine which had been characterised by low pay and lax safety standards.

Munyenyembe said the signing of the collective agreement would enable MUZ to represent the miners at the Sinazongwe-based coal mine.

“We had a tripartite meeting with the Labour Commissioner, the Chinese and ourselves; that was on Thursday last week,” Munyenyembe said. “So, we came with the proposal that we want our members there to join. So, we are going back to Lusaka on Tuesday to sign the collective agreement.”

Currently, two Chinese mine managers – Xiao Li Shan and Wu Jiu Hua – of Collum Coal Mine are appearing before courts after they allegedly shot and injured 12 miners who were protesting against their working conditions on October 15.

The two have been charged with attempted murder.

And Munyenyembe said some Chinese-operated mines still subjected Zambian workers to “very pathetic” working conditions.

“Some mines, the conditions are worse… the reason is that we are not there,” said Munyenyemba.

“Where we have been recognised as representative of the workers, we have improved the conditions of service, but where the Chinese were reluctant to accept us, we took them to court; the court ruled in our favour but still can’t recognise us and we have taken them back to court.”

And in an interview in Kitwe, Chipeta said Collum mine operations must be suspended for stakeholders to resolve issues.

He said workers’ safety concerns and conditions of service had been outstanding for a long time.

Chipeta said the government failed to act when former Southern Province minister Alice Simango openly wept when the Chinese were sending miners to work under ground without protective clothing.

And Chipeta said the form of compensation to Collum mine shooting victims should be treated differently because the miners were not injured in the process of carrying out their duties but deliberately shot at by frightened managers.

“This is criminal and the perpetrators of that violence must be declared criminals before anyone is compensated. And we want to see the wheels of justice to be moving in this matter because if this (shooting) was committed in China by a Zambian, right now death sentences could have been passed,” Chipeta said.

He demanded that the compensations be made public and should not be treated with secrecy.
Chipeta accused the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions of not doing anything to advocate justice for the injured miners.

“As a congress, there is totally nothing they have done; it’s priorities are upside down. This is why we are calling for regime change in the congress because how can they be busy commenting on unrelated issues when issues that are directly bordering on its core values are going unchecked by the congress?” asked Chipeta.

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