First Quantum to Cut 730 Jobs at Zambia Copper Mine, ZNBC Says

  • Company plans on hiring freeze if power restriction not lifted
  • Zambia is facing its worst electricity shortage to date

First Quantum Minerals Ltd. told the Zambian government it plans to fire 730 workers at its Sentinel copper mine because it’s not getting enough power to keep operations running, state-owned ZNBC reported, citing Information Minister Chishimba Kambwili.

Kambwili didn’t answer calls by Bloomberg News seeking comment.

Zambia is facing its worst power crisis yet because of low water levels at the hydropower dams it relies on for 95 percent of generation capacity. The shortages have hit mines, which are also under pressure to cut costs and shed jobs to cope with a decline in commodity prices. Zambia is Africa’s second-biggest producer of copper, after neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Sentinel mine in Kalumbila, in North Western province, isn’t receiving power from a transmission line connected to the capital, Lusaka, that was supposed to come on line in September. The mine may also delay plans to hire another 360 workers.

“Our appeal is now to government to quickly energize the line from Lusaka to Kalumbila,” Joseph Chewe, general secretary at the Mineworkers Union of Zambia, said in comments broadcast by ZNBC on Wednesday. With an increased supply of power, "we can avoid the job losses that have been announced," he said.

Sentinel, which Zambian President Edgar Lungu officially opened in August, is receiving 70 megawatts of the 150 megawatts it requires, ZNBC reported, citing a letter from the company. At this level it’s only able to operate half of the mine’s processing plant, said ZNBC. The government is engaging First Quantum in a bid to secure jobs, the broadcaster said, citing Kambwili. A spokeswoman for the mine wasn’t immediately able to comment when contacted by phone.

Sentinel, which will produce as much as 300,000 metric tons of copper at full capacity, employed 1,264 people as of August, according to First Quantum.

First Quantum in August said it would cut almost 1,500 construction jobs and halted operations at the plant after Zesco, the state-owned power supplier, rationed its electricity to 42 megawatts. Normal power was restored the same week.

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