Monday, December 30, 2013

Sata tells KCM off
By Roy Habaalu in Lusaka and Darious Kapembwa in Kitwe
Tue 05 Nov. 2013, 14:01 CAT

IF KCM chief executive officer Kishor Kumar wants to blackmail us, we shall sort him out, President Michael Sata has warned. Speaking ahead of a Cabinet meeting yesterday, President Sata said Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) wanted to blackmail the government after it stopped the company exporting copper concentrates.

"And please, Mr Fackson Shamenda (labour minister), go and tell Mr KCM chief executive officer Kishor Kumar, if he's threatening us that he wants to lay off people at Konkola Copper Mine, let him lay off one person, then we take away the licence from him; that's the best way of laying him off because investment should be for the people. And if that Mr Kumar wants to threaten us, to blackmail us, he can go to hell, we shall sort him out," President Sata said.

He said for 49 years, Zambia had survived on workers' pay, not from what came from companies.

"I am imploring the Minister of Finance to try and do something... that's why these people like the mines want to export our soil (copper concentrates) because they want to evade revenue. So please, let's work on that," President Sata said.

He said the Ministry of Finance was performing well and that all ministries needed to be supported.

Kumar last Friday announced plans to carry out outplacement of 1,529 employees as the mining giant pursued a mechanisation programme for all its operations.

At a press briefing in Kitwe on Saturday, Kumar said current productivity at eight tonnes per year per employee compared to global norms of 100 tonnes was unsustainable.

"This is due to the fact that KCM Nchanga operations are still using the costly conventional methods of mining compared to mechanised mining, which most of our global peers have adopted. In the continuing restructuring of our operations, KCM is moving towards mechanisation and automation of all its operations to ensure efficiency and higher productivity," Kumar said. "The resultant changes may affect upward of 1,529 members of our staff, through labour outplacement."

But mines minister Christopher Yaluma said the government would not buy into KCM plans to lay off over 1,500 workers.

Meanwhile, Mineworkers Union of Zambia general secretary Joseph Chewe says the union will bitterly fight the mining giant until the government finds a suitable investor in the mines.

Chewe said MUZ had on several occasions advised KCM on numerous ways to increase production, but that the advice had fallen on deaf ears.

"Look, KCM and Mopani both inherited old mines, but Mopani is sinking new shafts; they are almost done sinking the synchlinorium shaft at Nkana, they have done a new shaft at Mindolo and soon they will be building another shaft in Mufulira in order to extend the lifespan of the mines. Why can't KCM do the same? Why should KCM be given special treatment?" wondered Chewe.

"We will fight to the bitter end until a responsible investor takes over the operations if KCM is tired."

And Fr Luonde, a Kitwe-based Anglican priest, said it was clear that the Vedanta Resources-owned mine was not comfortable with the Patriotic Front government's policies of maximising on mineral wealth to benefit the Zambian people hence the 'blackmail'.

"This behaviour by KCM is very dangerous, totally unacceptable for us people on the Copperbelt and Zambia in general. Because when you go to
Chile, the biggest copper producer in the world...it is only here in Zambia where mining companies have been given so much leeway," he said.
Fr Luonde said President Sata and the Patriotic Front had inherited problems in the mining sector where the multinational corporations were untouchable in the previous regime.

"KCM cannot be claiming ownership of our mines; these mines have been there before. And this KCM is just reaping where they did not sow. After that they want to use an excuse of mechanisation as the reason for laying off labour. No! We will not allow that, because mechanisation or modernisation does not happen overnight, it does not happen in a short time, it takes time, it happens gradually. So KCM must tell the truth which is that the current government wants to change the way these mines contributed to national development. This is not a problem of the PF. This is a problem that Chiluba created, when he gave away mines for a song and they enjoyed that. Now that there is a change of policy from the past, they want to armtwist government," he said.

Fr Luonde said allowing KCM to lay-off 1,529 workers meant that 4,000 families would be thrown onto the streets.

"We are ready to work with government on this matter. Because they (KCM) have made their profits and must go so that other people come in and adhere to the country's labour laws. Copper is a diminishing asset, so if government does not collect maximum benefits from mines now, when is that time? My appeal is that government should not allow to be blackmailed," said Fr Luonde.

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