A new law on mining and quarry operations, which was gazetted recently, could protect health and safety of workers who operate in mining sites and quarries.
The law outlines various measures, including financial penalties for operators who fail to comply with health and safety standards in mineral exploration, processing, exploitation and trading and quarry operations
John Kanyangira, the director of mining inspection unit at Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RBM), told The New Times in a phone interview that the Government was moving to enforce safety, health, and environmental standards as part of efforts to develop the mining sector.
“We want to make mining companies abide with safety, environmental and health standards. We are trying to make mining companies responsible because before, they would only care about maximising profits regardless of the safety and health of the workers,” he said.
According to Kanyangira, 145 accidents were recorded across the country between November last year and June this year of which 81 were fatal accidents.
With these statistics, there was a concern that sub-contractors hardly invested in the protection of miners’ safety and health, which resulted in the review of the previous law.
In case of human injury and disease or environmental destruction, the law says he who is convicted will be liable to imprisonment for a term of between 6 months and one year. A fine of Rwf1 million to Rwf3 million will also be imposed.
For the case of caused human disability or incurable disease, the imprisonment range from one year to three years, with a fine of between Rwf3 million and Rwf5 million
If a mining operator is convicted with causing human death, he or she will face a jail term of 7 to 10 years and be slapped a fine of between Rwf5 million and Rwf10 million.
Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers’ Union, a labour union that advocates for workers in mining and quarry operations, believes this is a step in the right direction designed to address the long-standing issues that workers have been facing.
For André Mutsindashyaka, the secretary general of the union, miners will benefit from the new law, as they are often times affected by poor safety standards.
“Yet, these people contribute immensely to the growth of the mining sector,” he noted, highlighting that artisanal mining, a kind of mining done on small scale, is a commonly practised mining in the country with the largest number of miners employed in the field.
He, however, noted that they were pushing for a minimum wage for the miners, part of efforts to secure their work and for them to reap more from what they do.
The mining sector continues to contribute significantly to the economy. Latest statistics show that mineral exports raked in $373m (Rwf325bn) in 2017 up from $166m in the previous year, a growth rate that represents 124 per cent.
Mutsindashyaka said that the biggest challenge will be the enforcement of the law and ensuring that the implementation process is smooth.
But the RMB official explained that the Government was devising strategy to enforce the implementation of the law.
“There is plan to work with local authorities and security organs to ensure that the law is implemented. For instance, we are proposing to have two full-time workers at every district that would carry out an inspection on a regular basis,” he noted.