Namibia: Skorpion Zinc to Retrench 537 Workers

Skorpion Zinc mine at Rosh Pinah in the //Kharas region has issued a notice of intention to retrench 537 permanent workers.

Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN) southern region vice chairperson Petersen Kambinda told a press conference on Monday the union had received the notice of the pending retrenchments.

He described the intended retrenchments as "ill-conceived and barbaric" in the wake of the global outbreak of the coronavirus, and called on president Hage Geingob to urgently intervene to avert job losses.

The unionist said according to Skorpion mine management, significant geotechnical events and inefficiencies - including labour unrest - have resulted in intermittent stoppages and/or delays, which had negatively affected the mine's lifespan.

Skorpion embarked on the Pit 112 mine three-year life extension project in April 2017, with closure, care and maintenance envisaged for 2020.

Kambinda said the job losses could be averted if Skorpion reversed its decision to terminate a mining outsourcing agreement with mining subcontractor Basil Read.

He said there is a need to conduct proper studies on how to safely extract sufficient ore from Pit 112.

Kambinda said the decision by Vedanta PLC to place Skorpion Zinc mine under care and maintenance is saddening as there are other alternatives worth exploring to avert job losses.

"We remain convinced that Skorpion's claims about caring for the people is complete hogwash," he fumed.

"Without Skorpion Zinc, Rosh Pinah mining settlement will undoubtedly become a ghost town like Kombat," the unionist added.

According to him, Rosh Pinah's Gergarub mine project, of which Skorpion owns a 51% stake, needs to be expedited to minimise job losses.

He further asked if Vedanta Resources PLC was genuine about not continuing mining activities, why did they not explore the option to sell the mine, which he says was unique in several ways as it produces supergene zinc ore, and is the only mine using solvent extraction winning metallurgy to process and refine its products.

With these attributes, Kambinda said, the union is adamant that if the mine is placed on the market, a lot of international mining investors would line up to buy it.

"Vedanta Resources PLC tried to play this card on the Zambian people with no success...when the Zambian government discovered that Vedanta was in breach of its licence terms, it took a patriotic stance, and stood by its people by appointing a liquidator to run Konkola Copper Mines (KCM). Within weeks, the government had received numerous bids for KCM," he remarked.

Skorpion's corporate affairs manager Nora Ndopu in a statement issued on Monday said Vedanta Zinc International has invested over US$1,6 billion, including US$25 million spent on exploration alone, since it bought the mine from Anglo American in 2011.

However, she said significant events (pit stability) and inefficiencies, including labour unrest during this period had resulted in intermittent stoppages and/or delays, which have in turn unfavourably extended the project timeline and significantly eroded project value.

According to her, in May 2019, Skorpion experienced a major pit failure which resulted in an ore gap of four months, which required the stoppage of the mine's refinery from November 2019 to January 2020.

Ndopu said more failures have since occurred with the latest being the sterilising of a significant portion of the open pit.

This, she added, resulted in an ore gap in excess of 10 months.

"Further technical studies have indicated the existence of similar failure structures at depth," she noted.

The corporate affairs manager said the mine will be placed on care and maintenance, and this exercise will affect about 1 500 workers.

Ndopu said Skorpion remains focused on prioritising growth projects to create a sustainable life for the mine, and to shorten the care and maintenance gap.

"Accelerated focus will now be on the refinery conversion project to enable co-treatment of both sulphide and oxide ore," she stressed,

This project was originally announced in 2014 with the Gamsberg phase 1 project, but was deferred due to the pit 112 life extension, she said.

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