As we prepare for a large rally in Kitwe today and in Mufulira and Ndola tomorrow I want to address some of the issues that particularly affect the Copperbelt region, and the question of how to better manage our natural resources.
The Copperbelt region is host to so much wealth, yet even some of those who work in the mining sector are not benefitting properly and face tough daily working and living conditions. Poor safety and the casualization of labour remain a reality for too many Zambians.
At the same time others cannot find employment, and health facilities and sanitation services are of a poor standard. With the Kitwe Council budget slashed by K4.127 million just this month the prospect for an improvement of the situation under the current government does not appear to be on the horizon.
I know that many of you had high hopes the PF government would defend and protect the rights of employees and labourers on the Copperbelt. When you see how the government has treated even its own employees, such as nurses, in the past 3 years, it is perhaps unsurprising that things haven’t improved for the majority of workers.
We can turn this situation around but to achieve this government needs to set the standard when it comes to employee relations and tell the private sector they must keep up.
Government also needs to make sure we are getting a fair deal when we sign any mining contract. If we are not sure we are getting enough in return, in terms of revenues, jobs and investment then we don’t make the deal – simple as that.
We must remember that our people are our greatest asset, and ensure our youths and workers are provided with training opportunities that will enable them to go on and take up top jobs at these mines, for example in technical and management roles.
Finally, government needs to provide Zambian businesses on the Copperbelt with more support so that they can benefit from the mining business by being suppliers and contractors. Wherever possible mines should be giving preference to local Zambian suppliers, and government should be supporting these businesses by taking a strong stand against late payments to contractors, who are often heavily dependent on timely payment to keep their business going and pay their employees.
As you can see there are many things we can do to turn the current situation around. It will take some time to finish the job but we can get started in January 2015.