The chairman of Tanzania Mines and Construction Workers Union (TAMICO), Mr Mbaraka Igangula, was quoted over the weekend saying that wage disparity between foreign and local workers was one of the key reasons for the worker strike at Barrick Gold’s Bulyankulu gold mine. He said the weeklong strike will continue until workers’ grievances on pay, health and risk allowances are met.

According to an article published by Reuters over the weekend, “about 1,000 of its 1,971 workers had walked off the job last Thursday [October 25th] in what Barrick termed as an illegal strike. Barrick said it had fired half of the mine’s work force, and production had been halted”. Igangula denies that the strike was illegal and said all correct legal procedures were followed in organising the strike.

According to Igangula,

… a foreign worker earned 24 million Tanzania shillings ($20,820) a month, while a local worker took home a minimum wage of 200,000 shillings [$180]. A Tanzanian professional worker received $4,000 a month, he said. Foreign workers also received a bonus of 20 percent of their salaries, which is denied to local workers, Igangula added…local workers did not receive any risk allowance for exposure to hazards while working in the mine.

News of the strike come as a surprise considering how Barrick Gold Tanzania and the Tanzanian Government have always touted job creation and social responsibility work by mining companies as some of the key benefits the country is enjoying from the growing mining sector. To the extent that over one third of workers at Bulyankulu are unsatisfied with their working conditions gives credence to the growing public outcry that a “win-win” situation is yet to exist between mining investors and the country. The great disparity in wages indicated above revives the question of whether Tanzanian workers are being treated fairly by major foreign companies in the country.

The strike also raises the question of whether our labour laws, mining laws and mining contracts sufficiently protect local workers in foreign corporations and whether the Ministry of Labour is sufficiently empowered to ensure fair compensation scales and standards, if available, are being enforced by the private sector. However, the recent introduction of minimum wage rates for various private sector areas is a step in the right direction. The question of enforcement of these minimum wages still remains unanswered, and this has allowed many private businessness to ignore the new Government directive.

What are your thoughts on the Bulyankulu strike and the new private sector minimum wage rates? Do you think the strike is fair? Or would do you agree with Barrick that current wages are competitive enough to local workers?