Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE Zambian government took over the operations of a Chinese-owned coal mine on Wednesday, invoking poor safety and lack of environmental compliance, as Human Rights Watch issued a fresh report on the country’s copper industry.

Chinese firms have invested more than $1bn in copper-rich Zambia, but President Michael Sata’s election campaign in 2011 included pledges to defend labour rights and to take a tougher stance against Chinese investors.

Mines Minister Yamfwa Mukanga revoked all three mining licences of Collum Coal, citing safety concerns, a lack of environmental compliance and the failure to pay mineral royalties.

"The government has also taken over the running of the mines and will continue operating them until a suitable investor is found," Mr Mukanga said.

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday published its third report in 14 months about alleged abuses of labour rights and safety standards at four Zambian subsidiaries of China Nonferrous Metal Mining Corporation (CNMC).

"Although (they) have addressed some of the labour rights abuses documented in 2011, the miners still face significant health and safety risks," the body’s Africa director Daniel Bekele said.

The report criticised Mr Mukanga’s ministry, for making little progress in holding mining companies accountable and its infrequent safety inspections.

"The department has been woefully underfunded and understaffed in 2012, leaving it unable to fulfil its responsibilities," it said.

Despite China’s long and close association with Zambia, there has been growing animosity in many workplaces as employees accuse Chinese companies of abuses and underpaying.

Last year a mineworker was charged with the murder of a Chinese supervisor, and 11 others with rioting and theft after a protest over pay at the Collum mine.

Mr Mukanga said the mine had a history of poor safety, health and environmental compliance, due to personnel being unqualified.

"In some instances the entire mine has been closed to allow the mine management (to) comply with mine safety department directives, but there has been no improvement."

With Reuters