MAC: Mines and Communities

Africa's uranium industry "threatens people and nature"

Published by MAC on 2011-07-25
Source: The Namibian, statement

Rossing workers strike over pay deal

"Multinational mining companies remain largely unregulated and unaccountable, public participation in decision making regarding uranium mining is minimal, and long-term effects are insufficiently addressed".

These are the conclusions of a recent investigation by two Dutch organisations which spent a year examining the nature and impacts of the uranium industry in South Africa, Namibia and the Central African  Republic.

Meanwhile, workers at Africa's biggest uranium mine - operated by Rio Tinto at Rossing in Namibia - went on strike.

They allege that management has flagrantly discriminated against them by making derisory incentive payouts.

Uranium mines threaten African people and nature

SOMO and WISE statement

12 July 2011

Uranium exploitation leads to large-scale radiological and toxic contamination around many mining sites in Africa.

Multinational mining companies remain largely unregulated and unaccountable, public participation in decision making regarding uranium mining is minimal, and long-term effects are insufficiently addressed.

These are the findings of a report published today by the Dutch research organisations WISE and SOMO entitled Uranium from Africa: Mitigation of uranium mining impacts on society and environment by industry and governments.

Over the past year, the World Information Service on Energy (WISE) has conducted research in South Africa, Namibia, and the Central African Republic and has compared the situation in those countries with conditions in Canada and Australia, both of which are historically important uranium producing countries.

The research involved extensive interviews with representatives of African governments, civil society, and five uranium mining companies:  France-based AREVA, South African AngloGold Ashanti, English-Australian Rio Tinto, Australian Paladin, and Canadian First Uranium.

The rising demand for uranium to produce nuclear energy has led to an increase of uranium mining activities in Africa in recent years. In countries such as Niger, Namibia, South Africa, the Central African Republic, Malawi, and Tanzania, companies have expanded their mines or are opening new mines.

Uranium mining is associated with high environmental impacts and human health risks. The costs of rehabilitation of the mining area are often many times higher than the total revenues derived during the mine’s entire lifetime. Nevertheless, uranium mining operations are welcomed in many African countries due to the short-term economic benefits they provide.

The report describes how multinational uranium mining companies are generally not held accountable for their social and environmental performance at African operations, and how governments and populations are struggling with a lack of knowledge and means to exert influence over companies and to address irresponsible corporate behaviour.

Public participation in decision making is minimal and protection of human rights is insufficient. Radioactive and toxic contamination of water, land, and air is often not effectively addressed.

The social and environmental conditions at uranium mines is an increasingly relevant issue given mounting pressure on electricity companies to take responsibility for the conditions in the commodity chains that supply fuel for generating electricity.

Fleur Scheele, researcher at WISE and author of the report: “The serious problems associated with uranium mines in Africa raise doubts about the genuineness of electricity companies’ commitment to supply chain responsibility.”

The report was carried out as part of a larger SOMO/WISE project on uranium mining in Africa that included the February 2011 publication of a study entitled Radioactive Revenues: Financial Flows between uranium mining companies and African governments.  

To download the full July 2011 report click on Uranium from Africa: Mitigation of uranium mining impacts on society and environment by industry and government.

Rössing workers defy court order

By Denver Kisting

The Namibian

15 July 2011

YESTERDAY afternoon, Rössing Uranium employees ignored an order by Judge President Petrus Damaseb, who had ruled that their three-day strike was illegal and they must return to work immediately.

This means that by this morning, the accumulated loss for the uranium giant as a result of the strike amounted to approximately N$22,5 million. In court papers filed at the High Court in Windhoek yesterday, the company's Chief Operating Officer (COO), Mpho Mothoa, said Rössing has lost approximately N$2,5 million per shift. It has three shifts per day.

Although Mineworkers of Namibian (MUN) representative Ismael Kasuto yesterday afternoon said that the labour union will abide by the court order, he confirmed that workers have not resumed production.

Operations at the mine came to a halt early on Tuesday morning. Ever since then, workers have vowed not to return to work until they each get a N$30,000 payout based on this year's production thus far.

They are furious because, allegedly, the company's managing director pocketed a short-term incentive package of more than N$500,000, general managers more than N$400 000, managers more than N$240,000 and superintendents more than N$160 000 based on last year's production. The bargaining unit employees received N$11 000 before tax.

Rössing Uranium spokesperson Jerome Mutumba yesterday afternoon also confirmed that workers had not gone back to work despite Damaseb's order. He said they are exploring "all options" in an attempt to force the employees to resume duty.

According to Mutumba, management was still hard at work late yesterday afternoon to try to find a solution.

All employees yesterday morning received notices in the company buses, informing them that "all buses carrying employees will not be allowed onsite and all occupants will be offloaded at the main entrance and only those going back to work will be allowed onsite."

The notice by Mothoa further stated: "The company continues with the application of a no-work-no-pay principle as is stipulated in the Labour Act to striking employees."

Striking workers however defied this instruction and barged into the mine's premises and marched towards the offices of management where they camped out all day.

Mutumba did not want The Namibian to enter the premises yesterday morning, saying that he could not guarantee the reporter's safety. "The situation is not normal and allowing you to go in would be irresponsible."

Members of the Police's Special Reserve Force were deployed on the premises yesterday. It is understood that they were on standby armed with AK47s and teargas.

Yesterday, it was reported that an attempt by Erongo Regional Governor, Cleophas Mutjavikua, on Wednesday to try and salvage the situation failed.

Should employees continue with the illegal strike today, it will be the fourth day production will have been brought to a halt.

The MUN did not oppose Rössing Uranium's application for a court order against the strike, the union's lawyer, Charmaine van der Westhuizen, told Judge President Damaseb. She said the union did not sanction or condone the industrial action by the workers.

Ramon Maasdorp, instructed by the law firm G.F. Köpplinger Legal Practitioners, represented the mine during yesterday's urgent application.

Earlier, Robin Sherbourne, an independent economist, warned that the impact of the strike would be "significant". He said: "It is the second largest employer after Namdeb. Rössing already made a loss last year, so this is big stuff."

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