By Mukasiri Sibanda – Employees of large scale mining (LSM) companies have the technical skills and experience to carry out safe, responsible and efficient mining activities. Some of the critical technical skills needed to successfully run a mining business include geology, metallurgy, mining engineering and Safety health and Environment management.
Artisanal and small-scale (ASM) mining is business, the dearth of critical skills in the sector is a major impediment. This challenge can be flipped into exciting opportunities for partnerships or joint ventures between artisanal and small scale miners (ASMers) and formal labour in the mining sector.
In the case of retrenchment, mining employees but not see this as an end of the road, the skills they have can be usefully be absorbed into ASM. Over 500,000 people are directly involved in ASM compared to slightly less than 50,000 people directly employed by large scale miners.
A strong injection of capital is vital to boost productive of the ASM through acquisition of machinery, recruitment of specialised skills and development of safe mining shafts among others. Using individual savings from their salaries, labour from LSM companies can either pool their resources or individually invest in existing ASM operations. After all, they have the skills to do due diligence before they invest to ensure that they investments are safe. Aside from personal savings, labour from LSM operation have pension finds. Therefore, labour can negotiate with government to give prescribed asset status to investments into ASM operations by pension funds linked to LSM companies. This will enable development of artisanal miners into small scale, medium scale and large-scale mining operations.
Salaries and retrenchment packages in arrears
Sometimes opportunities are disguised as problems. It is often reported in the press that workers in the mining sector have not been paid for several months and retrenchments packages are paid in instalments. Instead, employees should leverage salaries and retrenchment packages in arrears to settle for tributes from large scale miners to venture into small scale mining. This is possible because some deposits are not economically viable for large scale mining. Venturing into small scale mining will help to create decent jobs for many artisanal miners daily exposed to an unsafe working environment.
Professional friends for ASMers
Labour associations in the mining sector can partner with Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) like the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) to form a Trust for professional friends of ASMers. The trust will recruit on part time basis local and international experts who are keen to offer their services for free to promote safe, responsible and profitable ASM. Travel and subsistence allowances for field visits will be covered in full by the Trust. Through use of social media tools like WhatsApp, experts can troubleshoot challenges raised by ASMers in WhatsApp groups through small videos, voice notes or text messages.
Formal labour has the voice and ASMers have the numbers
Formal labour organisation has lost its stamina in terms of negotiating and bargaining with policy makers. They have the voice but the lack of numbers due to closure of several mining companies, the numbers cannot make a loud chorus for change which is hard to ignore. This challenge can be averted if formal labour organisations help ASMers to organise and make their numbers count during formulation and implementation of policies that affect them. For instance, the reform of the colonial Mines and Minerals Act and Gold Trade Act. Lega instruments which criminalise artisanal mining, an important source of employment and income generation for many Zimbabweans.
Corporate Social Investments
Formal labour in the mining sector in Zimbabwe has not suffered a Marikana incident. There is Maracanã and its effects are ugly to development. A devastating cholera scourge currently haunting Zimbabwe is a reminder of missed priorities. Harare city council invested in soccer whilst mountains have developed from uncollected garbage in residential areas. The trend of misplaced priorities is being witnessed in the mining sector on corporate social investments. Companies investing in football clubs. Formal labour should voice its concerns and urge mining companies to earmark part of their corporate social investment in ASM. In 2015, Mimosa mine donated equipment, compressors and jackhammers worth $150,000 to Zvishavane-Mberengwa small scale miners association.
Harnessing linkages between formal labour in LSM and ASMers is quite important to ensure a win-win situation. Formal labour has an opportunity to leverage their technical skills, investment muscle and organising and bargaining skills to influence responsible, safe and productive growth of ASM in Zimbabwe. Civil society organisations must facilitate continuous conversations between labour from LSM and ASMers to foster mutual beneficial partnerships.
THE WRITER’S NOTE: This write up is inspired by the presentation I made during a one-day workshop on “Promoting Decent Work in the Mining Sector.” Held at Jameson Hotel, Harare on 25 September 2018, the workshop was organised by Labour Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe (LEDRIZ) together with Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Key linkages explored include technical skills, investment, organising and bargaining skills and corporate social investments.