Strike cripples mine

Management at Rosh Pinah, which is owned by the world’s fourth largest iron ore producer, Kumba Resources, were on Thursday still locked in negotiations to resolve a salary dispute, which erupted on Sunday.

A Rosh Pinah mine senior official, speaking on condition he was not named, told The Southern Times that the strike was hurting the mine but could not disclose the monetary loss.

More than 330 workers downed tools last Sunday demanding a 14 percent across the board increment after management and Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) botched negotiations with workers accusing management of negotiating ‘in bad faith.’

The workers have rejected Rosh Pinah’s eight percent salary increase offer and MUN and company officials on Thursday said that the strike was still underway with little hope in sight of an end to the salary dispute.

The workers are basing their salary increase demands on the bouyant lead and zinc prices and an increased production at the mining giant.

The workers are also demanding relocation allowances for retired staff and housing subsidies, MUN chairman at the mine Petrus Amakali said.

“Production has increased by 75 percent, zinc prices have gone up from US$760 a tonne to US$3.999 a tonne and lead is selling at around US$1.600 per tonne up from US$600, and that justifies our demands.

“The strike will continue until management reconsiders its position,” Amakali said.

Kumba Resources, the parent company has offered workers a nine percent wage increase for lower grades and an eight percent across the board increase for other grades.

“Kumba believes that its offer is fair and reasonable and is continuing discussions with the union to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” Kumba said in a statement on Monday but has maintained a stiff upper lip on the progress of the negotiations.

Rosh Pinah, which produced 119 000 tonnes of zinc concentrate in the 2005 financial years, sends all of its material to Kumba’s Zincor refinery in South Africa, which had zinc metal output last year of 104 000 tonnes.

“There is minimal production at Rosh Pinah now. There are some stockpiles at Rosh Pinah and there is enough stockpile at Zincor to keep the operation moving,” Kumba’s general manager for corporate and investor relations Trevor Arran, told investors.

Rosh Pinah provided Zincor with 55 percent of its annual requirements in 2005.

Earlier in the week, Amakali had accused Kumba management of negotiating in bad faith.

“We could not negotiate with management because they are negotiating in bad faith,” accused Amakali.

Rosh Pinah management has however dug in its heels warning that it could dock the wages of the workers who have not been present for duty.

Amakali said that the workers’ salaries have not been raised for the past three years with the company arguing that it was channeling resources to debt settlement.

Rosh Pinah has been arguing that it owes parent company, Kumba Resources more than US$15 million, hence its failure to increase the salaries of workers.

“The loan from Kumba Resources was paid back with interest at the end of 2005. The mine is producing very well and the zinc price is very good,” Amakali said.

Another paralysing three-day strike hit Rossing Uranium last week and was only resolved after management agreed to a 15 percent salary increase.

Rossing Uranium is owned by the Rio Tinto group and supplies 7.7 percent of the world’s supply of uranium.

Mining is Namibia’s largest employer and foreign currency earner. Government has pinned hopes for increased economic growth on the sector, whose performance has been bouyed by increased investment in its uranium, gold, copper and diamond mining sectors.

November 2006
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