Getting High and Riding Dirtbikes (Zambia #7)

Making bricks

How I got conned (East Africa #1)

July 15, 2007 Comments (1) Africa, Experiences

Labour relations (Zambia #8)

Strike stricken

So the miners are on strike. It all began when the workers’ union representatives traveled to the Zambia head-office to negotiate, and were promised a 21% raise on their base salary plus back-pay from the start of negotiations. This was expected to come into effect last week but due to an accounting debacle and some poor communication between union and workers, it didn’t happen for everybody. Seems that some had their raise and back-pay, some only had 6% raises, and some even had their pay reduced. The bean-counters were warned to fix it fast but they didn’t. Now the Leading Hands and Managers are operating equipment, along with some workers who snuck through the protest. Although our stockpiles are running down and this can’t keep up forever, the mill is thrilled with the consistency and quality of the ore feed! And further proof that the stock market makes no sense: When the news hit the exchanges about our strike, the stock jumped up over 3% in the remaining hours of trading.

Last year it only lasted half a day before being resolved, but the Ghanaian Production Manager had to go to court in the capital. He had taken a photo of the union leader during the protest, and faced charges of witchcraft. The union leader felt that he was being cursed to death by the black-magic of the black foreigner. The superstitious fear magic (sometimes known as ‘ju-ju’) from Africans originating from other parts of the continent.

What the truck

We’ve had some pretty hilarious occurrences over the last few weeks, which I hear about from the production crew at our daily meetings. Last week the dozer went to our rubbish dump to bury and compact things, and found about 50 locals scouring for scrap metal. They fled into the forest, but when they saw the dozer was burying their treasure, they started hurling rocks. The security has since been stepped up, and there are plans to make the landfill area our new snake-relocation zone.

And two days ago a 40-tonne truck’s parking brake seized on, and while the truck drove up a ramp the brake caught fire. The driver jumped out and smartly chocked the wheels, and our Shift Manager came with the water truck to quickly bring the fire under control. When the fire was extinguished the brake released, and the chocks proved inadequately small for the 2-meter diameter tyres. The truck began creeping backwards, and everybody hesitated to jump aboard the soon-to-be runaway truck. It rolled down-ramp for over a hundred meters, narrowly avoiding a grader, a pickup, and the sheer-drop off the high-wall into the pit. At the bottom of the ramp it ran over a stop sign before rolling to a relatively peaceful stop. Even funnier is that the Shift Manager and Production Manager were laughing to the point of tears as they told us what happened on their watch. Since no equipment or people were hurt, this situation’s hilarity could be appreciated. But at any first-world mine, people wouldn’t take it so lightly. Hurray for a laid-back Africa.

The 21 tradesmen of Team Indonesia have now been joined by 50 Filipinos. Sometimes at lunch I wonder if I’m still in Africa. Apparently, flying in these skilled contractor teams is way cheaper than employing the local people, and you get better results, much faster. As unfair as this is to the local people desperate for work, the problem with Zambians is that so many certified tradesmen have forged certificates. And some of the authentic certificates are from schools that have no equipment, so people can graduate without ever touching a wrench or lathe. What good is that!? But I’ve been in contact with one of the social development coordinators and they’ve found an excellent trade-school in the Congo that they’ll be investing in and recruiting from.


I’ve got some more photos posted on the Flickr account, like newspaper clippings you could only find in Africa, what 40000 kg of explosives can do, and visual accounts of two more hilarious occurrences not mentioned above. Plus chimpanzees! Check them out by clicking the thumbnail above.

Only two weeks remaining for me here before I’m off to see something other than rocks and dust. It’s the final countdown. (And I’ve got that song by ‘Europe’ stuck in my head).


One Response to Labour relations (Zambia #8)

  1. Anonymous says:

    Hey Mike…

    Fletcher here..Hope all is well..BTW strikes mean less supply of commodities in question..therefore higher profits for the co`s other mines in the long term….surprising the stock market is more rational than one would guess.

    Give me a ring when you get back to Vancouver..

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