On June 11, Thursday, a group of 11 civil society groups issued a letter to 13 mining companies operating in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), asking them to stop the practice of confining workers at mining sites citing COVID-19 prevention. The civil society groups include Rights and Accountability in Development (RAID) and the African Resource Watch (AFREWATCH), among others.
Mostly copper-cobalt mining companies in the DRC have started this practice to avoid the shutdown of production despite the novel coronavirus outbreak. Employers have threatened to fire the workers if they do not remain on the mining site. Several workers and their unions have complained about being forced to comply with this demand due to the lack of other job options. Most of them have also complained about inadequate supply of food and other essential items during their confinement.
The companies have also been accused of failing to install the necessary measures to protect workers from the COVID-19 infection. The letter demands that all mining sites follow the essential guidelines of maintaining physical distancing and provide necessary hygiene facilities to the workers.
As per reports, some workers have also been forced by the management to work beyond the stipulated eight hours without any additional pay, and have been denied basic information about the required length of their confinement.
The civil society groups have warned the companies that “the current situation should not be used as a pretext to infringe” upon workers’ rights and circumvent employers’ responsibilities.
There are more than 4,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the DRC with 98 deaths as of June 11.
Some of the companies mentioned in the letter are the world’s largest mining companies, such as Glencore and the Eurasian Resource Group. DRC is the world’s largest producer of cobalt with around 70% of the world’s total production. Cobalt is used in making rechargeable batteries.