- May 22, 2020
- Posted in LOCAL
Several Chinese-owned mining companies in Zimbabwe are reportedly not fully providing their employees with personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect them from COVID-19, a new report has revealed.
By Dumisani Nyoni
In its latest COVID-19 mining sector and communities’ situational report, the Zimbabwe Environmental Law Association (ZELA) said the Chinese mining companies’ compliance levels with safety and health standards were very low.
All the six surveyed mines were found wanting.
ZELA said in Marange diamond fields, Anjin Investments which used to be a joint venture between Anhui Foreign Economic Construction Group Company, ZMDC, and the military through a self-company is back in operation, although the current shareholding structure is not clear.
According to community monitors, there are some changes in terms of management and its operations as the company is said to be involved more in exploration than mining activities at this point.
“However, the plant department is said to be operational. It was reported that social distancing requirements in terms of the law are not being observed as workers are working in close proximity,” reads part of the report.
“It is reported that there are no regular safety and health meetings as required by law before commencing work on a daily basis as the Chinese do not believe in that.”
Workers reported that no efforts were being made by managers to educate workers on social distancing at the mine sites or living quarters.
“The Chinese management is not enforcing such requirements. As for transportation, workers are ferried in overcrowded open trucks to their workstations from offices. For accommodation, the Chinese have better accommodation facilities, while the rest of the workers stay in fours per room, with some using bunk beds which defeat physical distancing.”
“Some workers complain about the poor condition of toilets at the mine, while ventilation in some rooms is said not to be up to standard. Workers are said to be given sub-standard disposable masks which are not the recommended N95 and not suitable for mining and some workers are not using the masks,” it said.
ZELA said the masks were used over and over again and end up being dirty.
“Complaints of inadequate and poor-quality safety shoes and work suits were also reported. Reports of employees working without contracts were also received. However, temperature checks are conducted.”
At Zimberly Investment Hwange, another Chinese-owned company, ZELA said when the 21-day lockdown was declared workers at the mine in Hwange did not have access to running water to wash hands, no PPE and there were no toilets.
In terms of accommodation at the mine, five workers would share a small room which defeats the idea of social distancing.
ZELA had prepared to file an urgent Court Chamber Application seeking an order compelling the company to provide workers with adequate safety, health, and sanitation facilities.
Following some monitoring visits from the Hwange representative of the National Miners Workers Association of Zimbabwe and the threat of legal action, the company took steps to provide PPE to workers.
“The last inspection conducted showed that the company is now complying with some the COVID-19 measures including provision of PPE and social distancing. However, some workers are worried about the sub-standard quality of the PPE provided by the companies,” the report reads.
“The situation at this mine requires constant monitoring. Government’s lowering of standards on the quality of masks may also present problems to mine workers as it can be used by mining companies to justify the provision of poor-quality masks”
The report notes that at Hwange Coal Gasification Company, workers were being transported in a lorry, overcrowded, and with no social distancing. Even at the workstation, no social distancing of workers was observed.
The mine did not even provide adequate water points at the mine for promoting sanitation and handwashing. Water for washing hands was being rationed.
South Mining, a Chinese coal mine operating in Hwange is reported to have very poor safety and health standards for workers.
“During the 21-day lockdown period, workers at the mine complained that they were ferried to work in a bus without observance of social distancing as they will be crowded on the bus. This was also the case at their workstations where they worked in close proximity,” reads the report.
On Sunrise Chilota Cooperation, ZELA found out that when the lockdown was announced exempting coal mining companies, workers at Sunrise Chilota Cooperation were ordered to camp at the mine site.
Five men were sharing a small room and did not have access to toilets. The company did not provide workers with personal protective equipment and clothing. The Chinese managers told workers that if they do not stay at the mine site they would lose their jobs, ZELA said.
In Mutoko, Chinese granite mining companies namely Dingmao and Longrui also did not have adequate personal protective equipment.
“Only a few workers were given work suits. This exposes workers to contracting or spreading COVID-19 beyond the workplace,” it said.
As of 14 May 2020, Zimbabwe had 37 COVID-19 confirmed cases, four deaths, and thirteen recoveries.
Globally, more than 302 000 people had succumbed to the disease from 4,44 million confirmed cases.
Article first appeared in the Mining Newsweek (Mining Zimbabwe Weekly) in the 18 May 2020 Edition