Workers shut down mining firm’s operations

Some 100 workers of the foreign-backed Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) grouped in four clusters in their move to paralyze the firm’s operations since Monday.  

Sagittarius is largely owned by Xstrata Copper, a global player in the mining industry.

Indophil Resources NL, an Australian company, is also one of SMI’s investors. Alsons Corp. of the local Alcantara group has a stake in Indophil. 

Nilo Reysoma, board member of the SMI Workers Association, said they  padlocked the main office, set up a barricade at Barangay Tablu which leads to the company’s base camp, and staged protest actions in the villages of Lambayong and Liberty, site of SMI’s ore farm. 

He added that while the base camp of Sagittarius in hinterland Barangay Tablu is still functioning, they will block company trucks loaded with diesel oil so they could not go there and thus stop operations. 

At the main office in the poblacion here, operations have been totally shut down with only security guards around the facility.  

Reysoma said around 200 people working in the company for the past two to three years have not been granted regular status. SMI, however, recently announced through local TV it is opening regular posts for 37 workers, mostly drivers. 

But Reysoma condemned the announcement, pointing out that Sagittarius should first look at its current pool of workers to fill the posts instead of opening them to the general public. 

Officials from the regional office of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board (NCMB) rushed to the town Wednesday morning to help settle the dispute. “We got orders from the national office to settle the problem before it becomes worst. This situation is not healthy both for the management and the workers,” said Wilfredo Santos, mediation officer of the NCMB. 

The local government unit of Tampakan has been supportive of the workers.

“The local government unit stands behind the struggle of the workers for regular status. Their demand is valid,” said Acting Vice Mayor Relly Leysa. 

SMI, in a statement e-mailed to the media this afternoon, said it has reviewed its hiring practices as part of its commitment to support local employment opportunities at the mines development site. 

It said it was in response to the dialogues held with local officials, community members and workers that highlighted the need to revise and improve the current “rotational worker system.” 

“We are saddened by the action taken last Monday by a small group of agency and rotational workers because SMI is committed to sustainable employment practices that are aligned to our project’s operational requirements and international best practice, and in line with what the community desires and expects,” explained SMI project manager Gerardo Laviste. 

He said management is still willing to meet with the protesting workers. Laviste said they decided on the creation of 37 regular positions after the dialogues with local officials, community members and the rotational workers. He also said they will have additional 57 positions to fill up for the company’s drilling program. 

Over a week ago, SMI general manager Mark Williams said the new positions “will be opened to competent and qualified local residents,” and that recruitment will be “based on merit.” 

The company said it “ must attract, retain and develop high caliber people. Efforts will be made to fill positions, in the first instance, through internal promotions and transfers. When this cannot be achieved, a rigorous external recruitment process will be initiated.” 

SMI said it will also embark on a comprehensive review of its rotational worker scheme to ensure hiring practices are equitable, open and transparent, the statement said. 

“In response to the feedback we have received from local communities, we are proposing a number of amendments to the scheme, including improved identification and description of project labor requirements and a more comprehensive nomination process involving more structured community consultation,” said Laviste. 

But Reynosa said that SMI should not have announced a new hiring and instead prioritized absorbing existing workers qualified for the job. 

“We will continue with our protest until our complaints will be acted upon appropriately,” he said. Leysa, on the other hand, said in his letter to Williams that “the company’s decision to post 37 new regular positions appears to be bluntly astute, shrewd move and eventually deviates from the purpose of addressing genuinely the overwhelming moral and legal demand of your workers.” (MindaNews)