4 January 2018

Namibia: Safety Concerns Frustrate Skorpion Miners

WORKERS of Skorpion Zinc Mine at Rosh Pinah yesterday staged a peaceful demonstration over safety standards at the mine, and accused mine bosses of putting workers' lives at risk for the sake of profits.

The Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN)'s Rosh Pinah branch alleged in a petition handed over to the Skorpion Zinc Mine management that it had become a norm at the mine that safety policies and procedures were being ignored.

Because of this, the union charged, safety standards at the mine, owned by Indian mining giant Vedanta International Zinc, have dropped and led to unsafe working conditions.

"People's lives need to be priority number one before production at all times," the union stressed.

MUN pointed to a slope failure at the mine's open pit on 18 December last year, claiming workers were not even briefed about the incident before going back into the pit.

According to the union, expert advice from Geo-Tech to stabilise the open pit's slopes had been ignored by the mine's management on various occasions, and this led to the slope failure.

In addition, the union claimed that miners were not being trained on emergency evacuation procedures, while there was no evacuation assembly point and emergency exit in the open pit.

The workers also demanded that workplace forum meetings be held, claiming a lack of communication between both the mine management and contractor Basil Read, which was contracted to mine at the beginning of 2017.

"We find it very hard to have proper communication with Basil Read management, and this leads to frustration and stress. There is not even a proper communication channel between employees and the Skorpion Zinc management," the petition states.

The union furthermore took issue with Skorpion Zinc management for not taking action against some senior Basil Read managers for allegedly refusing alcohol breathalyser tests before entering the mine.

The petition states that the alcohol breathalyser test issue was brought to the attention of the general manager during the safety campaign, but has fallen on deaf ears. To date, no action was taken against the managers.

The union also questioned the appointment of only foreigners in managerial positions by Basil Read, accusing it of ignoring Namibians during recruitment.

Skorpion general manager, Irvinne Simataa said when approached for comment yesterday, that management was still studying the petition, and could not comment.

"We have committed ourselves to give a response to the petition in a reasonable time," he said.

Simataa stressed that the company does not compromise on workers' safety.

"Safety comes first, and then production. Therefore, we will never put our workers' lives at risk," he stated.

Simataa said challenges indeed existed in the work environment, and that safety issues raised in the petition were taken seriously.

Basil Read senior project manager, Manie Silver said he could not comment as he did not know what was in the petition.

"I was on leave, and I am currently driving back to work as we speak," he noted.

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