THE latest report by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) has observed that the Patriotic Front (PF) Government has recorded positive strides in addressing challenges faced by miners in privately-owned mining firms.
This is according to a statement from HRW dated February 20, 2013 coinciding with Government's announcement of the revocation of the Chinese-run Collum Coal Mines' three small-scale mining licences for failure to comply with the law.
"New Human Rights Watch research found that the Government of President Michael Sata, who promised to prioritise labour rights when he took office in September 2011, has made some improvements in supporting the oversight of the mines," the statement read in part.
The notable labour improvements include the fact that miners at China Non-Ferrous Metal Mining Corporation (CNMC) Sino Metals plant had their 12-hour shifts reduced to eight hours last year.
The statement added that any miners who previously worked 72 hours a week handling chemicals in a hazardous environment now had a 48-hour work week.
This is standard under Zambian law and international labour regulations.
HRW, however, noted that despite the improvement recorded thus far, there remained inadequate enforcement of national labour laws designed to protect workers' rights as employees in the copper mining sector were still vulnerable to abuse.
HRW Africa director Daniel Bekele said CNMC subsidiaries had addressed some of the labour rights highlighted in the 2011 HRW report, but said it was
disappointing that not much progress had been recorded in that area.
"Although CNMC's subsidiaries have addressed some of the labour rights abuses documented by Human Rights Watch in 2011, the miners still face significant health and safety risks," Mr Bekele said.
In November, 2011 HRW's report documented labour rights abuses at four Zambian subsidiaries of CNMC, a state-owned enterprise under the authority of China's highest executive body.
In follow-up research in October, 2012, HRW found that CNMC's subsidiaries made some notable improvements on reducing work hours and respecting freedom of association.
HRW has maintained an ongoing dialogue with CNMC about its safety standards, which are crucial in an industry where acid burns, extreme heat, heavy equipment, high voltage, and falling rocks are prevalent.