Oil and Gas

Congo mining sector sheds 3,000 direct jobs since last year - chamber

LUBUMBASHI, Democratic Republic of Congo, June 7 (Reuters) - D emocratic Republic of Congo’s mining sector has lost at least 3,000 direct and 10,000 subcontractor jobs since commodity prices began to tumble last year, the chamber of mines said on Tuesday.

Congo, Africa’s largest copper producer, is heavily dependent on the mining sector, which together with its smaller oil industry accounts for 98 percent of export earnings.

Benchmark copper on the London Metal Exchange lost a quarter of its value in 2015 and is down slightly this year.

Congo also faces political uncertainty, as a presidential election set for November is likely to be delayed and opponents of President Joseph Kabila have vowed protests if he does not honour the constitution by stepping down at the end of the year.

“Even though ... staff levels at mining operations are not yet entirely known, a loss of 3,000 direct jobs can already be reported,” the industry group’s first-quarter report said.

It said Kazakh company Eurasian Resources Group cut 1,300 jobs this year at a mine and sub-contracting company it controls. A union for workers at those companies says the cuts will cost more than 2,000 jobs.

Glencore’s 18-month suspension of operations at its Katanga unit, one of Congo’s biggest copper and cobalt miners, last September led to 1,200 job losses.

The report also said copper production in the first quarter of 2016 fell 11.8 percent to 234,313 tonnes, while gold output fell 15.7 percent and cobalt production dropped 21.3 percent.

The country’s central bank said on Saturday that copper output in the first quarter of this year had fallen 20 percent to 219,009 tonnes and that gold and cobalt production fell 8 and 19 percent, respectively.

The reason for the discrepancies was not immediately clear.

The chamber of mines report added that Sicomines, the mining side of a $6 billion minerals-for-infrastructure deal between Chinese companies and the Congolese state first signed in 2007, has already become the country’s third largest copper producer.

The two biggest producers are Mutanda, a joint venture between Switzerland-based Glencore and Israeli billionaire Dan Gertler’s Fleurette Group, and Tenke, whose majority stake Freeport McMoRan Inc agreed to sell last month to China Molybdenum Co Ltd for $2.65 billion. (Editing by Tim Cocks and David Clarke)