FES create space for Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) TUCC (Trade Union Competence Center for Sub-Saharan Africa) in partnership with IndustriALL Sub-Saharan Africa held a two day workshop on 20-21 August 2019 on the transformation of informal to formal economy. The workshop themed Crossing the Divide (CTD): Transformation of Artisanal and Small-Scale Mining to build pressure from below — provided an opportunity for learning, sharing of strategies and tactics on working conditions, interest representation, social dialogue and solidarity in the extraction of the mineral sector.

Photo by FES TUCC

Photo by FES TUCC

Panel Discussion, Photo by FES TUCC

The workshop is part of the FES Trade Union Competence Centre (TUCC) intervention project: Crossing the Divide (CTD) which looks at the transformation of informal to formal work, the origins of precarious work and the future of labour. The partnership with IndustriALL was to provide a platform for formal and informal actors in the mining industry to learn about ILO convention 204, policy guidance and discuss issues of mutual interests such as partnership to work towards transforming small scale mining and in particular decriminalizing the activities of artisanal mining.

The workshop was organized as information sharing for union representatives, experts, NGOs and Small-Scale Miners from several countries in Sub Saharan Africa. Opening the workshop, IndustriALL Global Union Director of Mining and DGOJP, Glen Mpufane and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung Project Manager Shane Choshane highlighted the importance of the workshop, given the injustices that workers in the Sub Continent and particularly Small-Scale Miners are currently enduring, without formal regulation of the sector by countries which experience the phenomena.

The participants of the workshop were IndustriALL mining affiliates in the Sub-Sahara Africa Region from South Africa, Ghana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Burkina Faso, DRC, the ASM organisations Association for Zambian Women in Mining and NGOs PACT World and Mining Affected Communities United in Action (MACUA). The participants brought to the attention of the meeting various country experiences of artisanal mining in South Africa called zama-zama; Jerabos in Zambia; and Galamsey in Ghana generally refers to the manual extraction of minerals by locals often its activities criminalised by governments in Sub Saharan Africa.

A key point of interest from the meeting was the consensus that the future of unions belongs in the small-scale mining. This is due to large-scale mechanisation in big industrial mining operated by multinational corporations; the more ASM sector grows by absorbing labour force lost from big companies. The sector provides working opportunities for up 20 million people in Africa alone according to the World Bank.

The workshop tackled a number of issues that hamper the recognition of the sector. The two day workshop discussed formalising artisanal and small scale mining within the context of ILO Convention 204. ILO Pretoria Director Joni Musabayane also emphasised the importance of active participation of trade union in ASM reiterating that the future of mining unions belong to the sector as the world of work is changing. "Dealing with the informal economy is now the business of formal unions and ILO R204 is a tool to assist the unions," said Musabayana.

The workshop conducted in the form of presentations and panels involved the significant participation of trade union representatives in the mining sector and social movements, who raised the need for solidarity. One challenge that was highlighted was how to organize artisanal mining workers, more especially those whose activities are criminalised by their state. Such activities typically lack references to formalized workplace or markets, and they suffer from lack of basic rights, including difficulties to organise and negotiate collectively.

There are many challenges posed by this ever-growing sector of mining sector. Amongst other things criminal activities and freak mining accident emanating from the need to formalize the sector.

Another important point raised was the need to create a dialogue to understand the need of ASM on the interests of the working class in the countries experincing the wave of increasing small scale mining. In this situation, it is important to lobby political intervention for governments to issue mining permits.

The workshop reached a general consensus that it is no longer possible for the trade union movement to ignore the plight of workers in ASM. Trade unions must move beyond limited specific categories of workers or sectors of employment. Coordinated action with social movements such as MACUA is imperative to fight against the erosion of workers’ rights.

The agenda on gender inequalities was also debated extensively in the workshop, to look at gender sensitivity and make an important contribution to household livehood and the local economy as women are key players in this sector.

The seminar fruitfully answered two critical questions posed to the workshop: First, the role can unions play in defending the rights of workers in ASM? The participants concluded that formalized unions can help ASM by making them get organised and integrate them into the mainstream. Integrating the ASM as one the sectors within the union for the purpose of servicing them, the trade unions can help in terms of safety, health and environmental issues due to high risk contracting occupational and diseases such as TB, silicosis.

The meeting envisages to educate workers in the ASM sector about the importance of belonging to a membership-based organization and build on existing networks and cross border unions solidarity.

And finally, the workshop looked on how to overcome the divide between formal unions and artisanal miners’ association? Again, it was unanimously agreed that unions should create awareness on the potentials available in ASM sector by awakening the consciousness of trade unions on the future of work. Educate workers in the formal sector to embrace the complementary role of ASM can play in social cohesion.

FES TUCC will further cooperate with IndustriALL to explore various avenues that will realise the aspirations of workers in the sector including full scale formalisation.

FES Trade Union Competence Centre

34, Bompas Road
Dunkeld West

+27-11 341 0270
+27-11 341 0271


back to top