MAC: Mines and Communities

Rwanda: Trade Union claims mine disaster was "preventable"

Published by MAC on 2019-01-26

The announcement of a "hill" collapsing on a Rwandan tin mine, killing 14 women and men, appears to under-estimate the true circumstances [See: 14 miners die in Rwanda hill collapse ]

As news of the disaster reverberates through the country, one labour union has now blamed the tragic event on the British company owning the mine .

Rwanda: Death of 14 Miners Was Preventable - Labour Union

By James Karuhanga

New Times (Rwanda)

24 January 2019

A labour union involved in the mining sector has told The New Times that
Monday's death of 14 workers at a tin quarry in Rwamagana District would
have been averted had mine owners cared enough.

Francois Ntakiyimana, the Executive Secretary of COTRAF, said that last
October, his office got different welfare related complaints from miners
at the concession, including the limited access to platforms where
workers' thoughts and concerns could be channelled and addressed.

The miners reportedly died when a slope failure occurred at an open pit at
the mine site owned by Piran Resource from UK.

"That accident couldn't have happened. My justification is that, when you
hold meetings with workers, they tell you how a mine wall is likely to
cause problems," Ntakiyimana said.

On December 20, he wrote to the firm, highlighting issues regarding
workers' safety and welfare.

The management of Piran refused to meet with the trade union, Ntakiyimana
said.

Tristan Minyati, the legal representative of Piran Rwanda, refuted
everything the labour unionist said.

While Minyati admitted receiving the December letter, he said that they
never refused to meet.

"Those people [COTRAF] came to us. But all our employees are not their
members. We don't even really know if they have members here. How do they
protect people whose names or identity they can't even reveal?" he asked.

According to Minyati, their workers - nearly 1,400 - are covered by the
Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers Union (REWU).

Ntakiyimana accuses mining companies of being crafty and preferring to
collaborate with a labour union that does not dig in and bring to light
the problems of mine workers' the way COTRAF does.

The mining sector is the country's second biggest foreign exchange revenue
earner - after tourism - but the sustained loss of lives of people who
work in mines has triggered public scrutiny of the sector's business
practices.

The Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMB) targets to increase
mineral revenues to $800 million by 2020 and $1.5 billion annually by
2024.

In a statement issued after the miners' death, the CEO of RMB, Francis
Gatare, reminded all licensed companies to remain vigilant with meeting
mining standards, which involve proper mining techniques.

The institution states that it has embarked on different measures to
prevent mining accidents and there have been countrywide campaigns on
professional mining practices.

"Mining law and regulations have been reviewed with a target of granting
licenses to companies with enough mining capacity; mines inspections and
monitoring of mining agreements compliance have also been conducted," adds
the RMB statement.

"Mining safety standards have been disseminated to all miners and local
government; companies have been encouraged to have occupational health
safety workers."

The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) is still investigating the cause of
the accident.

The Commissioner of Police (CP) John Bosco Kabera, the Police
Spokesperson, said there are proper guidelines and standard procedures
mine field owners have to observe before embarking on any mineral
extraction related activity.

Kabera says that Police remains extremely concerned about the safety
conditions of mine workers and has urged concession owners to make regular
inspections to establish if there are any loose rocks and to follow every
safety standards and procedures required.

According to Minyati, RMB inspectors inspected the site a week before the
accident.

"We do regular inspections too before people enter a shaft or start
working on a site. There was no sign that day that the wall could cave in.
We are accountable and we mind our safety and welfare obligations
seriously," Minyati said.

Possible collusion?

Ntakiyimana perceives "possible collusion" between some mining firms and
local leaders, resulting in the latter turning a deaf ear to mine workers'
safety issues.

His fear is that, among other possible scenarios, mining firms contribute
to local administrative entities' annual performance targets for example
by paying medical insurance fees and as such, authorities may not pay much
attention to what goes on in mining zones.

When a firm pays community based health insurance (Mutuelle de santé) for
members of the local community, Ntakiyimana said, the District feels that
the firm cannot be put to task on its other responsibilities.

Ntakiyimana added: "Even if they did [ask about a firm's other
responsibilities], they are careful, they don't want to cause a situation
where a firm refrains from helping them."

The New Timescould however not independently verify these claims.

 

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