Monday, June 03, 2013

KCM under pressure over planned layoffs

By Misheck Wangwe in Kitwe and Henry Sinyangwe in Lusaka
Wed 29 May 2013, 14:01 CAT

MINEWORKERS officials from three KCM integrated business units yesterday staged a solidarity march in Kitwe to encourage the government and the three unions not to allow KCM to retrench employees.

And Charles Milupi says KCM is backtracking on its earlier assurance that it could still make profits with copper prices at a low of US$3,300 per tonne.

Meanwhile, labour minister Fackson Shamenda yesterday said mineworkers' unions and the government would today negotiate with Konkola Copper Mines management to halt the impending retrenchment of 2,000 permanent employees.

Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) has informed the government and the mineworkers' unions of its intention to retrench 2,000 workers out of a workforce of about 8,263.

Over 100 branch officials of the Mineworkers Union of Zambia (MUZ), National Union of Miners and Allied Workers (NUMAW) and the United Mineworkers Union of Zambia (UMUZ) that travelled from Konkola, Nchanga and Nkana KCM integrated business units arrived in Kitwe around 11:00 hours and marched to MUZ headquarters at Katilungu House chanting slogans that KCM must surrender the mine to the government if they had failed to run it in order to avoid what happened in Luanshya when people suffered after Binani failed to run the mines in Luanshya and disappeared.

The union officials that were all clad in black with black accused KCM management of being insincere and unfair to the government and the nation in its operations.

In a solidarity message to their national leaders, MUZ Nchanga branch chairman Malambo Malambo who represented all branch officials said it was sad that KCM was frustrating the efforts of the PF government to create more jobs when they helped the former ruling party, the MMD create jobs.

"We have come here in peace and we want to offer solidarity to government and our national leaders. What is happening at KCM is shocking. All well-known companies, FL Smith, MMS, U&M Mining, Moolmans among others have all been frustrated or terminated. Instead KCM prefers replica companies of their origin," Malambo said.

"Our unions MUZ, NUMAW and UMUZ we have strongly resolved that KCM has lamentably failed and it is high time they surrendered the mine to the government to avoid another Binani situation."
Malambo said the government must move in with an equity partner sooner than later for the survival of the economy and employees.

He said the unions appreciated the PF government for ensuring that no miner loses a job at KCM.
"KCM did not anticipate the skyrocketing copper price at the world market, how come they are crying of low copper price which is still very high at about US$7,000 per tonne compared to those Anglo-American days? We know what is happening and it is immoral for KCM to use retrenchments as a tool to negotiate for mineral royalty and tariffs for energy and they have cited these as reasons for their intended actions," Malambo said.

And addressing the workers, MUZ president Nkole Chishimba said no one should be retrenched at KCM.

Chishimba said the national leaders of the three unions were mindful of the destruction that could be caused on the local economy and at family level if KCM was allowed to go ahead with its plans.

He appealed to workers to go back for work calmly and work extra hard to boost production levels so that the company would not have further excuses to retrench them.

NUMAW president James Chansa said the unions would not succumb to anything in the tripartite meeting expected to take place in Lusaka today with KCM, the government and the unions.
Chansa said the interests of the unions were to see KCM remain viable with the entire workforce maintained.

And Milupi, a mining engineer and now president of the Alliance for Democracy and Development, said it was surprising that KCM could cite the fall of the price of copper on the London Metal Exchange from about US$9,000 per tonne to an average of US$7,000 among reasons for its decision to prune workers.

He argued that copper prices at US$7,000 per tonne were not low and that those that could not make profits in the copper industry at such a price were not worthy to be called investors.
Milupi said initially, KCM had committed itself that if the copper price was at US$1.50 per pound or an equivalent of US$3,300 dollars per tonne, they would still make a profit of 15 per cent and keep the employees.

"In a high unemployment economy especially on the Copperbelt, to retrench 2,000 people is a significant move and it has a very adverse impact not only on the unemployment levels but also on the local economy. These issues must be handled with extreme care. Yes, copper price has fallen from US$9,000 to an average of US$7,000 but ever since the copper has been traded on LME, the price has been cycling, it goes up and it goes down. That's the elasticity of copper prices," he said.

"Now for an investor to claim that the copper price is low and on the basis of that they want to retrench 2,000 people, I think this is not being serious. What happens when it goes up again? Are they going to re-employ them? Are they serious investors that every time you sneeze then people have to go? In my view, the US$7,000 dollar per tonne is not that low because it must be compared with the production and operation costs."

Milupi described as lack of seriousness plans by KCM to lay off 2,000 mineworkers, saying "the country should get worried with the kind of investors in the copper mining industry that cannot survive with the copper prices at US$7,000 per tonne".

He challenged KCM to consider moving workers to new production sites such as Konkola Deep Mining Project (KDMP) which had about one billion tonnes of copper ore with a fairly high grade.

"US$7,000 is still a lot higher than the US$3,300 per tonne so what has happened? What happened to their commitment when they were taking over those mines? Coming to the government, they must be serious as well. They won this election promising that they would look at the interests of the poor and create employment. They need to get experts to sit down with KCM, go through production costs and find out why they cannot survive with the copper price averaging US$7,000 which is much higher than when they took over the mines," said Milupi, adding that the government must wake up and look at the interests of many poor Zambians that depend on the mines for survival.

Speaking to journalist after touring the recently-launched Zambia Union of Financial Institutions and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW) training centre yesterday, Shamenda vowed not to append his signature to the retrenchment of the workers at KCM.

He said government had directed the unions to carry out necessary research to help KCM find a solution.

"My office, I have the last signature to decide whether these workers should be retrenched or not, and for now, I don't think any person is going to be laid off. The unions and the deputy minister, and management of KCM are having discussions tomorrow today to look for the way forward, but not the retrenchment of 2,000 people, but to see how they can mitigate the factors in order to sustain the jobs," Shamenda said.

Shamenda said it should be made a point that no jobs should be lost.

And Shamenda said no foreigner would be allowed to negotiate for conditions of service for Zambian employees as government had discovered in the case of Shoprite.

"We have discovered that people who come for negotiations with Shoprite and the unions come from South Africa. Forthwith, as I have indicated, no foreigner not registered with Zambia Institute of Human Resources should participate in collective bargaining. If we have anybody who will come from outside and sits on the bargaining table with unions, now we will discuss with the Ministry of Home Affairs, we will never allow that person to come back into this country. That will be the last time they will be coming here. So, we don't want notorious employers, we want Zambians to negotiate on their behalf," he said.

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