Monday, December 30, 2013

KCM layoffs
By Editor
Tue 05 Nov. 2013, 14:00 CAT

Last week, Konkola Copper Mines announced plans to retrench over 1,500 employees as the mining company pursues a mechanisation programme for all its operations. All this is said to be aimed at increasing productivity and reducing costs, and thus increasing profits.

The government's reaction has been sharp. President Michael Sata feels this is a threat, blackmail and he has told Konkola Copper Mines that they can go to hell, they will sort them out.

And the Minister of Mines, Christopher Yaluma, was also categorical:

"Government will not allow Konkola Copper Mines to lay off more than 1,500 miners because solutions can be found to any problems faced by the mining company."

This reaction and disappointment is understandable. The mining corporations promise to create a lot of jobs when they are seeking mining licences. But they never actually fulfill their promises on this score. They create fewer jobs than they promise and they create jobs of a much lower quality and remuneration.

It is understandable why the government may be reacting so angrily to Konkola Copper Mines' plans to lay off over 1,500 workers because this is a company that has been boasting of employing so many people to justify why the government should give them this or that concession or incentive. They get what they want and after that, they want to renege on their promises. Who can easily accept this?

Clearly, these are distressing difficulties for a government and a people that are desperately in need of jobs, that had pinned their hopes for jobs on the mines.

These Konkola Copper Mines layoffs are inevitably a bitter pill to swallow. But if we are to face up to the realities, we have first to become aware of them.

The mining industry will never again employ as many people as it used to do in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s up to the 1980s or 1990s. The numbers of people employed by the mines will continue to decline because of a technology revolution that is fast replacing human beings with machines in virtually every sector and industry in the global economy.

Already, thousands of workers have been permanently eliminated from the economic process, and whole work categories and job assignments have shrunk, been restructured, or have disappeared.

This is not only happening in the mines; it is happening in agriculture and manufacturing, where the numbers of farm workers and factory workers are declining.

Mining industries, like other industries, have been undergoing a steady process of technology displacement for many decades. With the use of advanced computer technology, faster excavation and transportation equipment, improved blasting technologies, and new processing methods, mining companies have been able to increase output at an average annual rate of three per cent since 1970.

While the industrial worker is being phased out of the economic process, many economists and elected officials continue to hold out hope that the service sector and white-collar work will be able to absorb the unemployed labourers in search of work. Their hopes are likely to be dashed because automation and re-engineering are already replacing human labour across a wide swath of service-related fields. The new "thinking machines" are capable of performing many of the mental tasks now performed by humans, and at greater speeds.

In 'The Future Impact of Automation on Workers', authors Wassily Leontief and Faye Duchin described the improved efficiency of automated tellers: "A human teller can handle up to 200 transactions a day, works 30 hours a week, gets a salary anywhere from US$8,000 to US$20,000 a year plus fringe benefits, gets coffee breaks, a vacation and sick timeā€¦ In contrast, an automated teller can handle 2,000 transactions a day, works 168 hours a week, costs about US$22,000 a year to run, and doesn't take coffee breaks or vacations."

The transformation of the traditional office from a paper-handling to an electronic-processing operation has greatly increased the productivity of business and eliminated millions of clerical workers and will continue to do so at an accelerated rate. Secretaries were among the first casualties of the electronic office revolution. The numbers of secretaries has steadily declined as personal computers, electronic mail, and fax machines replace manual typewriters, paper files and routine correspondence. Receptionists are also being reduced in number as new automated computer systems can answer calls, record messages, and even hunt down the party being phoned.

The intelligent machine is steadily moving up the office hierarchy, subsuming not only routine clerical tasks but even work traditionally performed by management.

Clearly, the successful application of mechanisation typically results in fewer people being employed directly in support of the mining process. This will not be something easy for a government and a labour movement that wants to see more people employed by the mines. If not handled well, conflict is likely to arise. This is so because in addition to losses of jobs, mechanisation can also be seen as having a negative impact on the communities within which mines operate.

But the problem does not end here. A further significant impact of mechanisation is that of the design and structure of the work practices in mines. Changing technology leads to changes not only in the number of people employed directly in support of the production process, but also in their required skills and in the manner that work teams operate internally and interact with other teams and mine management.

So much hope was placed in mining investors employing many people. But the reality is starting to dash those hopes.

We share the bitter feeling of impotence that our political and labour leaders have in the face of such problems and the concern of all statesmen for the political instability to which these problems may give rise.

So gloomy are the realities and the prospects for the future viewed as a whole that they could generate pessimism and discouragement if we were not sure of aims.

We do not have, nor do we think anyone has, magic remedies for such difficult, complex and apparently insoluble problems. History shows, however, that no problem has ever been solved until it has become a tangible reality of which everyone is aware. But no matter how enormous the difficulties, no matter how complex the task, there can be no room for pessimism. This would be to renounce all hope and resign ourselves to the final defeat.

We have no alternative but to struggle, trusting in the great moral and intellectual capacity of the human race and in its instinct for self-preservation, if we wish to harbour any hope for survival.

Only with a tremendous effort and the moral and intellectual support of all can we face a future that objectively appears desperate and sombre, especially for our poor people.

The challenge with mining is that the mining corporations don't want to pay for anything. And if they have to pay, it has to be very little - peanuts, a token. They don't want to pay taxes. They do everything possible to pay nothing or very little in terms of taxes. Now they are trying to employ the smallest numbers of people possible and at the lowest wages possible. This is the way they behave. And this being the case, then what remains for our people, what benefits do our people get from their country's mineral resources?

There is no alternative to fair, just and orderly taxation of the mines. If we don't get fair revenues from the mines, what will remain for us from their exploitation of our country's mineral resources?

This is why we have to take an aggressive attitude towards the taxation of mining transnational corporations. If we don't, they will leave us with nothing but craters.

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