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Chinese Diplomat Hopes Zambian Labor Violence Limited

  • James Butty

An aerial view of an Equinox copper mine in Lumwana, Zambia, which a Chinese company has expressed interest in buying. (Reuters image)

An aerial view of an Equinox copper mine in Lumwana, Zambia, which a Chinese company has expressed interest in buying. (Reuters image)

The Chinese ambassador to Zambia said Chinese nationals working for the Collum Coal Mine located south of Lusaka are staying out of the public eye for fear attacks by Zambians.

Last week, the Chinese mine manager, Wu Shengzai, was killed over what Zambian workers say was the company’s delay in implementing a new government minimum wage law.

Labor Minister Fackson Shamenda described the killing as a criminal act and said Zambia is safe for all investors.

Ambassador Zhou Yuxian said he hopes the arrest of suspects will prevent further violence at Chinese-run mines.

“I am pleased to see the series of quick measures that have been taken and I hope that it will produce very positive results and that measures will be taken to ensure that it will not spread to other Chinese,” he said.

The Zambian government recently raised minimum wages for maids to $100 and $220 for shop workers.

The protesting workers claimed the Collum Coal Mine management had been delaying implementing the new minimum wage policy.

But, Zhou said the violence could have been the result of miscommunication as the company had already announced its willingness to implement the new policy.

“Actually, I would say that the company is the first company that made a formal agreement with the union after the decree of the new minimum wage initiative. So, maybe not enough information was passed on to the workers. Beyond that, the unionized companies are not covered by this decree. The new decree basically targets nonunionized employees,” he said.

Collum Coal Mine has had other labor problems. In 2010, the government charged two Chinese managers with attempted murder after they allegedly opened fire on a group of protesting miners wounding 11.

Zhou said the industrial relations between the workers and the mine’s owners needs to be improved. But, he said the Chinese employees may have acted in self-defense.

“The Chinese employees there were telling me in the last couple of days that, if we did not do something previously in self-defense, we could have been killed,” he said.

Zhou said he understands the new government’s efforts to improve the wages of its citizens, but he said the key is when to introduce such a policy.

“The result of these new policies will have [an] effect on the investment environment. According to my experience with the Chinese companies here, some are still making active investments next year, some may be taking a wait-and-see attitude,” Zhou said.