NCIP says mining firm’s hiring standars for Lumads “too high”

Jeanne Anne Zoilo, NCIP regional director, told a press conference here that the hiring standards set by Sagittarius Mines, Inc. (SMI) “should be lowered to suit the qualifications of most tribal members,” apparently referring to the educational attainment criteria set by the firm on its labor force.

In a recent job announcement, SMI required applicants to be at least high school graduates for lowly positions like drivers, and higher education for technical positions.

Zoilo noted that most of the tribal members have little education, a disadvantage when seeking employment.

Now on its 10th year, the NCIP, which was created by Republic Act 8371 or the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, is mandated to protect and promote the interest and well-being of indigenous peoples or Lumads with due regard to their beliefs, customs, traditions and institutions.  

Zoilo said her office and SMI, which was paralyzed last month after some 200 protesting workers padlocked its principal office in Tampakan, South Cotabato, have been discussing the employment policy to possibly accommodate more Lumad members to its pool of workers.

The padlocks were removed days later with the help of the local government officials of Tampakan.

But Willie Santos, meditation officer of the National Conciliation and Mediation Board – Central Mindanao, said the management’s row with the workers has not been settled despite the lifting of the padlocks.

Santos, who was present at the press conference, said a meeting between SMI, the disgruntled workers and local officials of Tampakan is set for Wednesday at the mediation board’s regional office in this city.

Rolando Doria, SMI local government and regional affairs superintendent, said they are presently reviewing their principal agreement, which reportedly includes hiring policies.

Earlier, he said thousands of Lumads would be hired by the company, mostly for hard labor positions, when the firm will commence full scale operations supposedly by 2010.

Doria said that during last month’s protest, there were no members of tribal communities that participated in the padlocking and blocking of roads leading to the base camp, where technical work is being done.

SMI hopes to settle the labor conflict through the intervention of the mediation board, he said.

Presently, the firm is on an extended pre-feasibility study stage with the backing of two foreign companies.

Last March, Xstrata Copper assumed management control after exercising its option to acquire 62.5% of the venture. Australian firm Indophil Resources NL maintains 32.5% stake but it will climb to 37.5% after buying out the shares of the local Alsons Corp.

The Tampakan deposit represents one of the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposits in the Southeast Asia – Western Pacific Region. Resources are pegged at two billion, containing 11.6 million tons of copper and 14.6 ounces of gold at a 0.3% copper cut-off grade. (MindaNews)