Working and Living Conditions of Workers in the Mining Sector in Zambia By Grayson Koyi

1. Introduction

Across the world, conditions of work play an important role in shaping the quality of life of workers and their families. However, the character of effects depends on a vector of interlinkages and interactions between the workers’ conditions of work and the prevailing socio-economic environment. Using secondary data and the Wage Indicator Foundation Database, the paper addresses the question of how working conditions in Zambia’s copper mining industry relate with the cost of living for workers in order to understand what would constitute appropriate trade union strategies and actions for improved workers’ conditions.

On this basis, the paper presents a quick investigation of this question for the mining sector in Zambia – providing a somewhat broader basis for developing trade union strategies and actions. The paper is organised into four sections. The first section introduces the rationale of the paper. The second provides a country context and labour legislation. The third section analyses the relationship between working and living conditions of mine workers and typical families. Section four provides a conclusion and recommendations drawn from the paper’s discussion.

2. Country Context and Labour Legislation

Country Context

Zambia is a landlocked republic situated in south-central Africa, with a surface area of 752,612 square kilometres. The 2015 Living Conditions Monitoring Survey (LCMS) results show that the population of Zambia was estimated at 15.5 million in 2015. The population is mainly concentrated in rural areas at 58.2 percent compared to 41.8 percent in urban areas. In the period 2005-2015, the economy grew at an annual average of about 7.5 per cent, largely due to the copper price boom (World Development Indictors, 2016). This growth rate was marginally above the Sub - Saharan average of 5 per cent, resulting in an economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at market prices (constant 2010 USD) of USD26.2 billion in 2015. Economic growth outlook remains strong as the economy is projected to grow at 7.5 per cent per year up to 2017 (World Bank, 2015).

However, despite decent economic growth, poverty remains the greatest challenge to national development.  The proportion of the population living below the poverty line was 54.4 per cent in 2015. Poverty is predominantly a rural phenomenon with poverty levels at 76.6 percent compared to 23.4 percent in urban areas. Copperbelt province, the home of Zambia’s copper mining industry is largely an urbanised region with a poverty incidence of 30.8 percent while the North-Western province – the ‘new copper belt’ in which recent greenfield mine investments have been concentrated remains largely a rural region with a poverty incidence of 66.4 percent ( CSO, 2016).

Labour legislative framework in the mining sector

Legislation governing the rights and obligations of employers and employees in the mining sector in Zambia is mainly contained in the Industrial and Labour Relations Act, Chapter 269 of the Laws of Zambia. The Act provides for the conduct of industrial relations, the recognition and administration of workers and employers’ organisations and the registration and administration of dispute settlement and consultative machinery. Legislation governing employment contracts and procedures and conditions of work are mainly contained in the Employment Act, Chapter 268 of the Laws of Zambia. The Minimum Wages and Conditions of Employment Act, Chapter 276 of the Laws of Zambia also applies to the mining sector in Zambia, particularly in those areas which are outside the scope of collective bargaining or where trade unions do not exist or technically where the bargaining unit fails to agree on a particular issue. Under this Act, the Minister of Labour is empowered to make regulations and orders with respect to minimum wages and conditions of work. Mining activities are regulated by the Mines and Minerals Act, Chapter 213 of the Laws of Zambia. Matters of occupational health and safety matters are regulated largely under the Factories Act, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act No. 36 0f 2010.

3 Working Conditions and Impacts

3.1 Miners’ wages versus living wages in Zambia

The average wage (including management wages) for paid employees in the mining and quarrying sector in Zambia is K5, 148.00 (Labour Force Survey, 2014). This is a much higher industrial average wage in comparison with other sectors in the national economy, e.g. financial sector - K5,178.00; electricity sector - K4,184.00 ICT sector - K2,745.00  and  agricultural - K1,368.00. Data for unionised workers based on the Mine Workers’ Union of Zambia records indicate, however, that the lowest paid employee (General Worker) is paid K996.00 (US$ 1011.60) per month and the highest paid employee (Shift Boss) is paid K7,189.00 (US$733.50) per month. 

The basic Basic Needs Basket (BnB) for Kitwe conducted by Jesuit Centre for Theological Reflections (JCTR), which give a rough estimate of the cost of living was K3,824.87 (US$390.29) as at June 2016. This gives a clue of the cost of living in the copperbelt region. The Wage Indicator Foundation Database reports a living wage of US$357.60 for the highest paid (skilled) employee in Zambia and US$126.28 for the lowest paid (unskilled) employee. For the purpose of comparing how the wages for unionised employees relates with the living wage, the living wage data from the Wage Indicator Foundation dataset is used (Table 1-1)

Table 1-1: Wages in Mining Sector in Zambia versus Living Wages, 2016

Work Category

Unionised worker wage

(mining sector)

Living wage[2]

(national level)

Ratio

ZMW

US$

ZMW

US$

 

Highest paid

employee

7,189

733.5

3,504.80

357.60

2.05

Lowest paid

employee

996

101.6

1237.6

126.28

0.80

Source: Mine Workers Union of Zambia Records (2015); Wage Foundation Indicators (2016).

As seen from Table 1-1, the highest paid unionised mine workers’ monthly wage (US$733.50) is about two times higher than the average living wage (US$357.60) for the country. However, the lowest paid unionised employee earns a monthly wage that is about 20 percent less than the average living wage for the country. Similarly, when the wages of the miners are compared to the estimated cost of living for the copper belt (i.e. main mining region in Zambia) of US$390.29), it can be seen that while the wage of the highest paid employee is still about 2 times above this regional living wage estimate, that of the lowest paid employee is about 25 percent less than the regional living wage.

The bottom line is clear. While the wages of highest paid employees in the mining sector in Zambia are reflective of the cost of living for workers and typical families, the wages of employees on the lower end of the pay structure are not reflective of the cost of living. This implies that lowest paid employees categories earn wages that are not sufficient to enable them meet the cost of a basic needs basket. In other words, they constitute the working people in the mining sector.

Table 1-2 shows the relationship between the wages of unionised miners and the statutory minimum wage. As seen in the table, the highest paid unionised miner ( Shift boss) gets almost five times the minimum wage for the highest paid employee (qualified clerk) in the minimum wage category while the lowest paid unionised miner ( general worker) gets about 2.4 times the wage of the lowest paid employee (domestic worker) on minimum wages. However, looked at differently, it is also the case that the lowest paid mine worker gets paid lower than some categories of workers covered by the statutory minimum wage. For instance, the highest paid worker covered under the minimum wage gets US$147.4 per month in comparison to US$ 101.6 per month earned by the lowest paid mining worker.

This challenges trade union negotiators to ensure that collectively bargained wages are not set below the statutory minimum wage for any category of workers. Employers have, however, countered this argument on account of productivity and different skill profiles for varying worker categories that needs to be taken into account. But, negotiations in the mining sector are not based on productivity or preferences but power relations. Hence, it remains incumbent that trade unions set about their collective bargaining processes with the whole spectrum of minimum wages as a useful benchmark.
Table 1-2: Wages in Mining Sector in Zambia versus Statutory Minimum Wages, 2016

Work Category

Unionised worker wage

(mining sector)

Minimum wage

(national level)

Ratio

ZMW

US$

ZMW

US$

 

Highest paid

employee

7,189

733.5

1,445

147.4

4.9

Lowest paid

employee

996

101.6

420

43

2.4

Source: Mine Workers Union of Zambia Records (2015); Wage Foundation Indicators (2016).

3.2 General Conditions of Employment

The general conditions of employment highlighted are hours of work; job security; gender and women issues and, occupational health and safety. These are captured in Table 1-3.

Table 1-3: General Conditions of Employment in Mining Sector in Zambia

 

Working Condition

Company policy

Comment

1

Hours of work

8hr/day or 40 hour/ week is standard by law

Overtime not usually paid for workers working over 8 hours in a day. Complaints abounds, especially in Chinese-owned mining firms

2

Job security

Lean workers on permanent and pensionable employment contracts, with bulk of workers on contract terms.

Contract employment associated with job insecurity. Casual work outlawed since 2015.

3

Gender and women issues

Stated policies in the mining industry proclaim commitment to principles of equality of opportunity in the workforce.

The reality on the ground counters gender equality proclamation. For instance, while at Kansanshi Mining Plc, employment policy proclaims commitment to principles of equal opportunity in the workforce, counter differences in equality of opportunity between men and women prevail with the participation of women rather at a low of 6.3 percent as compared to men at 93.7 percent.

 

4

Health and safety

Most companies have stated policies on OHS, including training policies on occupational health and safety

Mining still leads on occupational injuries, occupational fatalities and occupational-related diseases, such as Tuberculosis.

Under Zambian law, a day has 8 working hours and a 48-hour week. People who work longer than 48 hours a week are entitled to overtime. The recurrent complaint among several miners, however, is that they are not given adequate overtime for weeks in which they work more than 48 hours. Workers also report not being paid the correct amount for the overtime they worked or, in some cases, not being paid overtime at all (Human Rights Report, 2013).

On gender and women issues, stated policies in the mining industry proclaim commitment to principles of equality of opportunity in the workforce (Macintyre, 2010). However, while equality of opportunity in the workforce underpins most mining company’s employment policy, counter differences in equality of opportunity between men and women prevail. For instance, at Kansanshi Mine, the participation of women is low (6.3%) as compared to men (93.7%).

In terms of job security, it is the case that the mining sector has recently recorded increases in employment levels but not to levels above the pre-privatisation levels.  However, the new jobs have tended to be fixed-term contracts or outsourced to independent contractors (LIZ, 2016). According to the Ministry of Mines and Minerals Development, there are 33,500 direct employees and 34,448 workers employed by independent contractors in the mining sector as at June 2016. In most mining firms, the number of workers employed by independent contractors is nearly half that of the permanent staff. For instance, Konkola Copper Mine (KCM) reports that it has about 6,500 direct employees and 6,000 contract employees (LIZ, 2016). Mopani Copper Mine reports 9,372 direct employees and 11,014 contract employees (LIZ, 2016). This pattern suggests a lean workforce on permanent and pensions employment contracts with the bulk of the workforce on contract and less secure forms of employment that tend to exhibit decent work deficits.

On health and safety issues in the mines, most mining companies appear, at least on paper, committed to ensuring occupational health and safety. However, a Workmen’s Compensation Fund Control Board Report (2015), suggest that the highest work related injuries are still recorded from mining and quarrying industries with a total of 462 injuries, representing 17.3 percent of the total injuries received in the period 2010-2014. The second highest was from iron and steel industries which recorded a total of 397 representing 14.9 percent of total workplace injuries in the period under review. Further analysis of data from Mine Safety Department  reveals that the main causes of death in mines is fall of ground such as rock fall and collapsing of the ground, staff falling from heights, driving in undesignated tracks (trackless vehicles), electric shock, detonation of explosives, falling materials, gassing and moving machinery. Further analysis showed that the majority of deaths in the mining companies are caused by fall of ground which accounted for between 17 to 42 percent of fatality cases in the period 2010-2014.
Apart from occupational injuries and deaths, employees in mining continue to be exposed to occupational diseases. Further scrutiny of data from Occupational Safety and Health Institute OSHI) revealed that on average, 238 per 100,000 miners and ex-miners acquired Pneumoconiosis and Tuberculosis at work place annually. Out of the 238 per 100,000 miners and ex-miners certified with P and TB, 180 per 100,000 miners and ex miners representing 76 percent are certified with Pulmonary Tuberculosis. Twenty one percent (21%) are certified with Pneumoconiosis in various stages from stage 1 to stage 3 while the remaining 3 percent have both Tuberculosis and Pneumoconiosis. Such high prevalence suggest occupational health and safety remain a critical area of concern in Zambian mining that trade unions must prioritise to safety the current and future health of workers.
4. Conclusion and recommendations

The paper reaches a conclusion that the current wages for lowly paid unionised workers in the Zambian mining sector are insufficient to cover the minimum requirement for decent living in Zambia. This is demonstrated by gaps that exists between the wages of unionised miners, particularly on the lower end of the wage spectrum, and the living wage. The general conditions of employment, even though on paper appear generally compliant with international labour standards and practice, they exhibit significant gaps in implementation and workers experience that counter the well-meant intentions. Non-payment of overtimes, job-insecurities, gender disparities and, occupational injuries, fatalities and diseases associated with working in the mining sector are cases in point. Addressing the challenge of working conditions for decent living for miners in Zambia requires, at the very minimum, a three - pronged approach.

  1. Timely revision of  negotiated wages

First, advocating for timely revision of collectively bargained wages to protect workers against erosion of their purchasing power through the rising cost of living and inflationary pressures, and;

  1. Using CBAs as tools for advancing the living wage agenda

Second, using collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) as a tool for addressing the quest for a living wage through social dialogue. As such, collective agreements should contain, as a standard requirement, key elements of the living wage agenda. These should include;

  • House, transport and meal allowances;
  • Health insurance, reproductive rights (including maternity/paternity leave, child care) and occupational health and safety;
  • Better pay, working hours and social protection.

These elements must provide a useful starting point for a gradual attainment of the living wage agenda. As a safeguard, the duration of CBAs should not exceed two years to guard again the inflationary effects on the purchasing power of wages and conditions of work secured through collective bargaining.

  1. Placing the issue of occupational health and safety at the centre of the collective bargaining agenda in the mining sector

The discussion on occupational health and safety leaves no doubt that this matter must be placed at the centre of the collective bargaining agenda in the Zambian mining industry, and not at the margins of it.

References (To be completed)

ILO (2010): Minimum Wages and Collective Bargaining: Towards Policy Coherence. ILO: Geneva

Wage Indicator Foundation as in http://www.ilo.org/public/english/dialogue/actemp/downloads/publications/srscbarg.pdf

Wage indicator database as in http://wageindicator-collective-agreements-database.silk.co/



[1] Grayson Koyi is a research fellow at the Institute of Economic and Social Research, University of Zambia and an associate researcher with the African Labour Research and Education Institute. email grayson.koyi@unza.zm

[2] Based on Wage Foundation Indicator Database.