by Alex Ogbu
The mining sector of the economy is dominated by informal arrangements. Locals try to benefit from the natural resources found within their locality. Hence, cases of poisoning and exposure to toxic wastes are common. However, the sudden scramble for resources by largely Chinese companies has led to an increase in formal businesses operating in the sector.
Socialist Worker visited some quarry mining sites in Abuja. This was to gain first-hand knowledge of workplace conditions. SW found that the state of workers welfare leaves a lot to be desired. This has made workers aggrieved in companies like Venus Mining Company in Mboku village of Bwari Area Council.
They have been working under severe exploitation. This has included some intimidation from military personnel used by the management to prevent workers from picketing, especially from December 2014.
The trouble started in 2012 when the union was first formed under the leadership of A.A. Suleman, the Zonal Chair. But the workers only faced unfulfilled promises from the management.
Then, in June 2014, Comrade Chinedu Nwuzor took over as Zonal Chair. The workers started picketing and forced the management to provide them with safety boots and milk to drink to address the dust.
Management also promised to provide workers with signed conditions of service and appointment letters. But until the time of this investigation, workers have not received these documents. They also suffer from no clinic, poor pay and poor conditions of work.
Those who have worked for years were arbitrarily sacked for being involved in building the union. Almost all the vocal and militant union executives have been sacked. Allegations of bribe money collected by the Zonal Chair was said to be the reason why he could not intervene as the bribe was for him to disorganize the union.
When Socialist Worker contacted the Zonal Chair, he quickly responded that the management got away with their acts of intimidation due to the presence of armed military men. He further stated that the union had petitioned the military high command to stay away from the trade dispute.
Comrade Jacob from Zeberdec Mining in Kubwa said the union has constituted a committee that met with Venus Mining management for negotiation.
Workers work for wages, but what they get is toxic poison, poverty and death. This graphically depicts the harrowing conditions mine workers face. Among mine workers, other common issues are: poor salaries, long working hours, hearing problems, physical molestation, lack of safety equipment, lung diseases, and lack of clinic or sick bay. Host communities also share the pain of mine workers.
Mine workers, and other people, should have the right to a clean and healthy environment and a decent livelihood. They should also be able to participate in decision making on all matters that affect them or the community and environment. This is actually stipulated in the relevant law, Quarry and Blasting Operation, 2013. However, It is only really the collective action of mineworkers that can start to overcome these problems.