Mineral Policy

11. Labour regulation

Many countries choose to develop an overall labour law that applies to all industrial sectors. However, there may be specific labour issues that only apply to the mining sector. In this case, mining guidelines may be prepared that give the industry a clear framework in which to operate safely.

Mineral policy issues that relate to labour fall into two major categories: labour-management issues on a mine site; and human resource development objectives. There are also very different labour related features of artisanal and small scale mining (ASM) compared with medium to larger scale mining.

Whether a country decides to create a mining-specific guideline on labour issues that supports the national labour legislation is a policy decision.

Artisanal and Small Scale Mining (ASM) labour issues

In the ASM sector, government must address some challenging policy issues. These include whether child labour will be allowed on small, family run artisanal mining operations. If so, what is the age that government deems safe for children to be involved in these activities? Some countries, such as Cameroon, recognise the involvement of children in some measure in these small, subsistence level activities. This is a cultural, traditional and necessary use of family labour to ensure a minimum daily wage. However, the country’s policy states that these children can only work in certain seasonal periods, otherwise the parents must ensure that they attend school. Or schools are constructed close to where the artisanal mining is going on, and children work for a few hours per day, but attend school the rest of the day. These are policy options that may point to a more innovative and useful way of looking at an emotive topic such as child labour.

Other labour issues concern the application of management contracts for casual labour, or the use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For example, some small scale and artisanal mines operating in riverine gold areas in Eastern Cameroon do not supply safe footwear for their workers operating heavy, mechanised machinery. One can see these workers wearing thin sandals performing this work. Mine inspections do not seem to be frequent enough to ensure compliance of the existing labour law. Many of these workers have worked for months without a contract. Exploitation of casual labour on artisanal and small scale mines is a problem in many countries. Government must consider policy options to combat these problems and then ensure that they are implemented and enforced.

Large-Scale Mining labour issues

Labour-management issues are different on a large-scale mine site. In this environment, policies usually exist that require worker-management health and safety committees. These committees run regularly and ensure that the mine is a safe environment for the workers. Hazards must be identified early on and measures put in place to remove them, reduce the danger, or reduce the exposure of workers to these hazards.

While many countries have labour legislation that deals with many of the health and safety issues on a mine site, some do not. In these cases, the mine is left to develop its own special operating procedures to reduce accidents, injury or death. However, some mines are not sufficiently responsible to undertake these measures voluntarily. It is a matter of policy to determine if a guideline should be developed that deals specifically with health and safety issues on a mine site.

The Human Resource Development component of labour issues deals with how the country wishes to develop a professional level of mine personnel. 

In South Africa, for example mining companies are subject to targets relating to the percentage of senior mine management staff who are historically disadvantaged South Africans.

Policy in practice: South African labour legislation in the mining sector

In South Africa, the mining policy requires that companies hire a certain percentage of management staff from historically disadvantaged South Africans. It further requires a percentage of the mine labour force to be women. Mines are required to submit Social and Labour Plans as a condition for their mining licenses. This social intervention aspect of the mineral policy in South Africa stems from the country’s apartheid past, and the lack of participation in the industry by certain groups in society. This is not a policy choice that would be suitable for all mining countries to follow.

Other countries such as Tanzania, Guinea, the DRC and many others, require a large-scale mining company to negotiate a mineral development agreement. Most of these agreements include measures that the company must take to reduce the number of expatriate senior mine staff over time. These measures include regular job performance assessments, career pathing, job shadowing, and training and development initiatives. Including this type of requirement as a condition for a mining license or in a mineral development agreement, convention, or contract are policy choices that government can make.