Labour union demands better safety for miners

Women miners inside Mageragere mining site. The labour union has called for better safety for miners. Sam Ngendahimana.

33 people died from mine accidents between January and June 2018, according to figures from Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board (RMPGB).

It attributes the deaths to lack of safety and security within mining sites, where some tunnels are not well supported.

The death toll recorded in the first half of this year is higher than the 27 workers who were reported dead last year as a result of tunnel walls caving in.

The latest reported incident occurred on Tuesday, when three people died as part of the tunnel roof fell down on them as they were extracting minerals at Rusumo mining site in Rukoma Sector of Kamonyi District. The mine is owned by Strategic Rwanda Minerals Company Ltd (SRMC). About 40 people were working there.

Jean Baptiste Mbarushimana, owner of SRMC, told Sunday Times that it was the first accident since the firm got a licence to carry out mining activities in 2013.

The Secretary General of Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers’ Union, André Murwanashyaka said that the problem is that labour and mining laws are not respected. He expressed concern that some mining companies do not work professionally, and don’t have enough safety equipment such as helmets and boots for the miners.

Another issue, he said, is lack of trained workers in terms of occupational health and safety.

“If labour and mining laws are respected, such deadly incidents cannot occur. We have such laws, but, implementation is a challenge,” he observed.

“We request that labour inspection be reinforced, and more efforts be put in safety. There should be a special inspection for occupational health and safety to assess its compliance, and taking measures against people who act against such regulations,” he said.

Mbarushimana said they had suspended extraction activities for about a month and half since March 15, 2018 because of the rainy season which triggers accidents in mine as water weakens the underpass.

“We are also seeking help from mine experts so that we are able to guarantee safety of workers,” he said.

The Director of Mining Inspection Unit at Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, John Kanyangira, told Sunday Times that they were encouraging companies to ensure occupational health and safety.

“Where we realize that the operations are not secure, we temporarily suspend the companies in question so that they resume operations after securing the mining sites,” he said.

There were about 500 companies licensed to extract minerals in Rwanda. 180 were suspended between January and March 2018.

However he said that, through some companies were suspended, it has been reported that some people illegally go to collect minerals which is a big challenge in terms of ensuring their safety.

He said that to effectively tackle the mine safety issue, there should be shared responsibility involving local leadership, security organs, mining entities, and responsible government institutions.

Strengthening inspection

To strengthen inspection of mining sites, Kanyangira said that there are now on average, two workers deployed to check mining activities in each district.

They are collaborating with labour inspection officers employed by the Ministry of Public Service and Labour (MIFOTRA) to make timely assessments and reports, according to Patrick Kananga, MIFOTRA’s Acting Director of Labour Administration, and Occupational Health and Safety Specialist.

“An employer has responsibility to make sure that workers are safe at work. The law says that an employer should protect the workplace such that an employee and any person going there should not encounter any problem,” he said.

Major hazards in mining include collapse of mine, darkness, and asphyxia (lack of oxygen), which Kananga said employers should give priority while taking care of their labour force.

Rwanda’s mineral export revenues increased from $166 million in 2016 to $373 million in 2017, according to statistics from the Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gasbut target to generate $400 million by 2018.