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End of the road for Skorpion Zinc employees this week

End of the road for Skorpion Zinc employees this week

Skorpion Zinc’s mine workers who crippled the zinc miner in 2008 and 2015 with prolonged strikes, are now looking hopefully to Basil Read for a lifeline, following the notice they received from the mine’s management in January this year that this will be their last week on the job.

Representatives of the Skorpion shareholder, Vedanta Zinc International, are this week in Namibia for meetings in Rosh Pinah with the Ministry of Labour to agree on the mine’s current retrenchment of 278 workers.

Skorpion Zinc has reached end-of-life unless mining can be extended by developing what the mine calls Pit 112, but Vedanta, the mine’s owner since 2010, baulked at “the urgently required bigger fleet of millions of dollars worth of heavy mining equipment.”

Skorpion Zinc was originally expected to shut down during 2015 but the mine’s life was extended to mid-2017 through additional exploration. Last week, Skorpion Zinc said the extension was achieved with the support of the government and the mine’s employees, not mentioning the crippling strike at the end of 2015 when management and administrative staff helped out on both the mining and the refining side to prevent the operation from shutting down.

The new deal with Basil Read Namibia to bring in its expertise and equipment, is seen as another lifeline for the beleagured mine but there is one crucial condition, the refinery may not stop producing. If the further development of Pit 112 disrupts the operation of the refinery, the project will not be viable.

“The next phase in the life extension of the mine is the expansion of Pit 112, which has become possible through the engagement of a professional mining operator Basil Read Namibia. Basil Read Namibia will provide the specialist expertise and the urgently required bigger fleet of millions of dollars of heavy mining equipment. The technical viability of this expansion is time-bound, however. This means that operations must begin immediately, so that the refinery operations can be sustained. If they do not, the project may not be viable” Skorpion Zinc warned in a statement released on Wednesday 22 March.

To expidite the pit’s development, Skorpion Zinc is bargaining on the capability of Basil Read Namibia, a subsidiary of Basil Read in South Africa, one of the country’s top five contractors. Basil Read operates a separate mining divisioin which has previously been instrumental in restarting copper mining at Kombat and Tshudi. Basil Read is also the contractor that handled the construction of the new airport on St Helena for the British Government.

But Basil Read is not prepared to take over the current employees of Skorpion Zinc while they are still employed by the mine. However, Basil Read will be unable to drive the expansion of Pit 112 without an estimated 450 mine workers. Therefore the workers had to be retrenched first and Basil Read will select those that it intends to employ. The retrenchment is the process that started in January and comes to an end this week on Thursday 30 March 2017.

“Basil Read Namibia will be engaging over 450 employees for their operations at Skorpion over the next three years and there is the potential for [employment] beyond three years as Basil Read is a significant and thriving company. These jobs are reserved for Namibians and preference will be given to former Skorpion employees” Skorpion Zinc said in its statement.

“The new mining model will result in the employment of an additional approximately 172 people for at least three years. In contrast, a failure to proceed with the new plan will mean the closure of the mine and the loss of 1,500 jobs from the middle of 2017. These are the only two options available” stated Skorpion.

According to the mine’s General Manager, Irvinne Simataa, “Skorpion Zinc management continues to engage with affected employees and the Mineworkers Union for an orderly separation of the remaining employees, and to facilitate any necessary engagement with Basil Read Namibia.

“We understand that this is a period of uncertainty for the affected employees, in fact for all our employees. We can assure them that we will do everything we can to support them during this period of transition, and their re-engagement by Basil Read Namibia should they choose this option.

Mine owner, Vedanta Zinc promised that it will commit further resources to exploration and analysis in the hope of extending the mine’s life beyond the anticipated three years of Pit 112. Vedanta is also investigating the option of changing the chemical extraction process to be able to treat zinc sulphide ores.

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