MINING firms operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been given a month to stop confining workers on site away from their families as part of COVID-19 restrictions and return to normal operations, said Reuters citing an open letter from the country’s labour minister.
“All mining companies that have confined workers to the operating site are granted a one-month moratorium to return to normal operation,” Labour Minister, Nene Ilunga Nkula said in the letter, dated July 13, which she shared on Twitter on Tuesday.
Mining companies must provide healthcare for workers and their families, as well as decent housing and a healthy diet for confined workers, Nkula said.
According to civil society organisations, workers have been told by managers to either stay at work or lose their jobs.
At some confined mine sites, Congolese workers reported being given insufficient food and water and inadequate accommodation, while at others they had no adequate personal protective equipment or hand-washing facilities, according to civil society groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and RAID.
The DRC is Africa’s top copper producer and the world’s main source of cobalt, accounting for two-thirds of global supplies of the metal used in smartphones and electric car batteries, said Reuters.
The country’s mines minister, Willy Kitobo Samsoni, has said full mine shutdowns would trigger a catastrophic economic and social crisis in the country, with the industry contributing 32% of its GDP and 95% of export revenue in 2018.
Companies mining in Congo’s southern copper belt include Glencore subsidiary Katanga Mining, China Molybdenum’s Tenke Fungurume, MMG, and Chemaf, while Ivanhoe Mines is developing two copper mines there.
Six workers at Glencore’s Kamoto Copper Company (KCC) mine in Lualaba province have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, KCC said a week ago.
Glencore said KCC does not confine workers on site.