MINES minister Richard Musukwa has protested a decision by Mopani Copper Mines to put the Kitwe and Mufulira mines on care and maintenance for three months subject to review, saying their reasons are not compelling.

And Musukwa says if the mine goes ahead to lay off over 11,000 workers, it will be met by the full force of the law.

At a press briefing, Tuesday, Musukwa warned that Mopani and its parent company, Glencore, would not be allowed to circumvent the law and abuse the COVID-19 pandemic to implement its planned restructuring measures.

“Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) contacted the Ministry Last week on Wednesday requesting to have a video conference with the Minister. Yesterday on Monday 6th April 2020 at 14hrs we held a video conference involving Glencore Head of Copper Africa Mark Davies, Nathan Bullock CEO Mopani Copper Mine (MCM) with Myself and our respective technocrats. The Glencore Executive Director informed me that the Company was going on ‘Care and Maintenance’ from Tuesday 7th April 2020 for 3 months citing 2 reasons namely the global economic challenges which have led to the price of copper falling to about US$4,800 per Tonne and disruptions to international mobility. Another reason cited was the challenge of COVID 19 in terms of putting projects on hold until key personnel can travel to the mining sites,” Musukwa said.

“Mark Davies informed the meeting that some personnel in Management would be laid off while unionized workers would obtain their salaries for the 3 months from today the 7th of April 2020, after which the situation would be up for review. A further indication was made that an ex-gratia payment of one month’s salary would be made to unionised staff employed by contractors in addition to some severance package. Later in the afternoon, after the meeting an electronic copy of a letter dated 6th April 2020 addressed to the Director of Mines and copied to my office was emailed by MCM.””

He said government does not agree with Mopani’s decision.

“We are a pro-poor government who were elected to ensure that Zambian workers are protected and that there is no justification for Mopani to undertake this unfortunate incidence. And to that effect, the director of mines has since written Mopani to hold on the entire process and that any attempt to break the law by Mopani will be met with the full force of the law because it is clear that many mining houses want to take the law in their hands and circumvent the provisions of the mines and minerals act at will. This is a matter that they cannot do in any jurisdiction and Zambia is not an exception, we will ensure that mining houses that support the law, that support Zambians are protected and in the same breath in which mining houses need to be protected by the law, the Zambian people and the government need to be protected by the same law. The government cannot therefore accept an attempt to use the COVID 19 pandemic as a scapegoat to push an agenda to lay off people without lawful reasons and circumvent the law to achieve an end,” Musukwa said.

“Their quest to put operations at Mopani Kitwe and Mufulira under [ground] mining and concentrator on care and maintenance and only remain with the smelter and the refinery is unacceptable and government has since written to Mopani to halt the entire process. We shall therefore, as government which is open to dialogue, round table negotiation and discussion, remain open to engage MCM to ensure that genuine dialogue takes place in the plight of sustainability of the mining operation and the livelihood and future of our workers at Mopani Copper Mines. The reasons that are advanced fell far below the provisions of the law and we ask MCM to ensure that they do the right thing by obeying the law.”

He added that government would not allow the exploitation of Zambian suppliers.

“Whereas the MCM letter claims that no retrenchments will be made, it categorically says some management employees will be laid off while severance packages will be granted to unionised workers under contractors. This again points to the long outstanding issue of attempting to cut off the current suppliers of goods and services in preference for a model that disadvantages Zambians. We are on record and I wish to reiterate that we shall not allow the exploitation of Zambian contractors because our law is very clear that preference must be given to Zambian providers of goods and services in terms of operations in all mining houses and Mopani is not an exception,” he said.

And Musukwa said government would not allow Mopani to lay off over 11,000 employees.

“Colleagues, we have a responsibility to the people of Zambia, if Glencore and Mopani have no clear thought out plan of operations they should not run to last resort solution, they should be able to come to government so that we sit and structure and in any case putting an operation of the magnitude of Mopani for three months and after that review clearly indicates that there is no plan because obviously we are aware that Mopani has stockpiles of concentrate that’s why they are leaving the smelter and refinery open for them to continue to be making money. I wish to assure first the Workers of MCM that your government will not let you down and allow MCM to circumvent the law to favour their interests. I have further rejected an attempt to give government less than 24 hours’ notice to effect layoffs of in excess of over 11,000 total employees. This is a joke, this is a country of laws, and we cannot have a multinational company that can dictate to a legitimate government. Mopani copper mine and its parent company Glencore must obey the Zambian law and do the right things,” said Musukwa.

“The letter claims that the company had taken the action pursuant to section 37(1)(d) of the Mines and Minerals Development Act which provides for closure of a mine based on Force Majeure. Government is aware that MCM has been attempting without success to change various aspects of their business model including the Procurement system which the Ministry challenged as not conforming with section 20 of the Mines and Minerals Development Act on giving preference to Zambians on the supply of goods and services.”