Strike shuts Mauritania mega-mine

Canada-based Kinross Gold is said to be rethinking plans for expansion of its massive open-pit mine at Tasiast, Mauritania, after a strike shut the facility for 10 days this month. Amid the shut-down, rating experts at the Bank of Montreal downgraded Kinross and removed the expansion of the Tasiast mine from production forecasts for the company. Some 1,500 workers, representing 98% of the labor force at the mine, walked off the job Aug. 8, demanding better health coverage and respect for Mauritania’s labor code. The conflict seems to have begun when managers demanded the mine remain in operation during the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Fitr. The strike, called by Mauritania’s main trade union confederation, the CGTM, was resolved Aug. 19 under terms that were not made public. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), with which the CGTM is affiliated, is demanding “urgent clarification” on the fate of one worker for subcontractor Canary Log, allegedly found dead under “obscure circumstances” near the mine site during the strike.

The Tasiast gold mine, some 300 kilometers north of the capital Nouakchott, is the third largest in the world, producing 200,000 ounces of gold per year, with a declared profit of $153.8 million in 2012. Kinross also has operations in Ghana, Brazil, Chile, Russia and the United States.  (Baystreet, Aug. 23; Canadian Press, Aug. 19; ITUC, Aug. 16; AFP, Aug. 8)

The strike comes amid another flare-up of Mauritania’s ongoing political crisis. On Aug. 22, authorities announced a six-week postponement of elections originally slated for October, after a coalition of opposition parties said it would boycott. The Coordination of Democratic Opposition (COD) said they would call for a “boycott this electoral masquerade,” protesting that the vote is to be overseen by sitting president Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who seized power in a 2008 coup. Gen. Abdel Aziz had his rule confirmed in an election the following year, but the COD rejected it as illegitimate, and is demanding that an interim leader not tainted by involvement in the coup take power to oversee the new vote. (AFP, Aug. 22)


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