Exploited workers protest against Chinese company
Demonstrators storm smelter company offices in Chambishi, forcing Chinese managers to lock themselves inside waiting for police rescue. Workers want better wages and working conditions. For years Chinese owners have been accused of exploiting local labour.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Three workers, two Zambian and one Chinese, sustained severe injuries in a riot that erupted following a protracted labour dispute at Chambishi Copper Smelter in Kitwe (Zambia) yesterday. An estimated 500 workers had started throwing stones at the company’ Chinese managers, who were forced to lock themselves in their offices. Protesters eventually clashed with police who tried to prevent the burning of buildings. After the workers left the area trade union leaders resumed negotiations with the Chinese company on raising salaries and improving working conditions.

Strike action began on Monday when negotiations between the parties over salaries reached an impasse. Workers currently make US$ 80 a month but want wages to rise to US$ 325 to US$ 400 per month. But CCS company secretary Sun Chuanqi said the company had not refused to address the workers’ demands.

Chambishi Smelter, which will cost more than US$ 200 million to construct, is part of China's planned US$ 900 million investment in the mining town of Chambishi, which the Zambian government has turned into a tax-free economic zone to attract Chinese investment.

Copper production is Zambia's main economic activity and the vast copper mines are a major employer. The service life of the mining project is estimated at 25 years.

"The Chinese are not respecting Zambian labour laws,” said workers' representative Teddy Chisala.

For years local miners accused the Chinese of exploitation because of the poor working conditions and low wages.

In 2005 a blast at the copper mine killed 50 people because of poor safety standards.

In July 2006 miners attacked the mine when management did not pay agreed wage increases. The police intervened shooting at demonstrators.

In 2007 Chinese President Hu Jintao, on an official state visit to Zambia, was forced to cancel a visit to the mine to avoid mass protest.  (PB)