Hundreds of jobs go at the Gold Ridge in Solomon Islands
The special secretary to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister says the layoff of hundreds of workers at the Gold Ridge mine on Guadalcanal will have a big impact on local employment.
The special secretary to the Solomon Islands Prime Minister says the layoff of hundreds of workers at the Gold Ridge mine in Guadalcanal will have a big impact on local employment.
Last week, the Australian-based parent company of Gold Ridge Mining Ltd, St Barbara, announced that just over 400 of its 570 strong Solomon Islands workforce have been made redundant.
The mine has been closed since April when flooding put it out of action, and there have been public disagreements between the company and the government, especially over security.
In a statement, Gold Ridge says there have been a number of serious security incidents by villagers which have been growing in frequency and severity.
The special secretary to the Prime Minister, Phillip Tagini, spoke to Jamie Tahana.
PHILLIP TAGINI: That's definitely going to have an impact on local employment particularly around the mine site. That is definitely going to be felt. We have had the advice of a strategist that the company has also had some problems in terms of its cashflow but it's come to a situation where it has become difficult to continue paying for its workers in light of the fact that there's not going to be any mining in the near future so we can understand the reason for doing so but at the same time it's going to affect the cashflow that's generated from employment with Gold Ridge.
JAMIE TAHANA: Of course cashflow was a big concern here, we've had reports that Gold Ridge is considering selling the mine, is this something you want to avoid here?
PT: Well, yeah that will be a situation which Gold Ridge would have to consider, the government would also want to play a part if that is going to be the case but if the future of Gold Ridge is sale, it's a real option that of course the Government wants to be in a situation where along with the national stakeholders, that is land owning groups, and also Government and Central Government, would be able to have some input into either the new company or structures for operations in the near future.
JT: How viable is a mine though, we've got a falling gold price which is continuing to fall, and mining in Solomon Islands is expensive. How much of a challenge would it be to attract another buyer and would the Government have to make some concessions here?
PT: Yes, that is true I mean there are a couple of factors that need to be considered. The declining price of gold in the international markets as well as the ore grade. According to Gold Ridge before the troubles that we've seen, they were quite optimistic that if they had the equipment that is capable of mining more efficiently, turning the ore into gold they would be able to make their profits. Of course there's still a considerable amount of ore at the Gold Ridge property, so I guess it depends on the company's ability to find systems that are efficient to extract the ore as well as actual assistance in terms of reducing illegal mining and other issues which are always troublesome around Gold Ridge.
JT: And what of the mine sight itself? We've heard constantly from the Gold Ridge company in Australia that security needs to step up around the site, there have been reports of more unrest and it's continuing and getting worse, what efforts are being put in to control the situation around that area so operations would be able to resume once the tailings dam is fixed?
PT: Well we have had reports from the company, apparently this is a situation that has developed over some time since the flood and of course there have been incidents, the police have been able to curb that, to get control of that, we still think it's under control. There might be a certain level of overreaction but we can totally understand the need to get personnel off the site for security reasons, but all this is happening against a background.
JT: That's quite contradictory isn't it? Saying you feel the situation's under control but you can understand why they're not going to the site for security reasons.
PT: Yeah well the locals are telling us, 'oh there's a couple of stone throwings' and all that but if you're on the ground and you understand the situation of course you can see the real extent of the danger but people observing and those from the outside would obviously want to take the best approach to get people away and the locals are telling us 'that's just an overreaction and it didn't happen' but of course the report we're getting from the company is that they are matched in truth. I think these things need to be put into proper balance, the Government is doing all it can and it's sending in police response teams to take over policing activities untill we can get an arrangement from people higher up in authority in the company. But having said that, we think things are stable at the moment and given an opportunity for a stabalising team from the company to get back in and make assessments and perhaps continue with their de-watering work which will take a couple of months. But we are now talking to the company St Barbara, the parent company and seeing what the best arrangement at the top level is going forward.
JT: And how do you rate that relationship with St Barbara, how close are those discussions here because it's no secret that there has been some antipathy between St Barbara and the Solomon Islands Government?
PT: Yeah we're expecting at least a month, because the Government is engaging some experts to advise us on certain issues regarding the sale or rearrangements, we're engaging some experts who are able to give us advice about options going forward. But at the crux of the issue, I think any arrangement, has to be seen to be fair to the locals, and be fair to the Government as well as to the company, whichever company is taking over and that has consistently been our message, to have an equitable arrangement where parties are able to agree on, in terms of indigenous people, environmental safeguards, social safeguards, and equities in the operation I think that is really where we're heading to which is basically the international standard.
JT: It's sounding like you're bracing yourself for the mine to be sold to be able to work with other companies.
PT: Well we're picking up cues from the company that all their options are on the table and so we're picking our cues from them what's in the best interest. We want a say in the situation and we want to have an arrangement that all parties are able to have. If it's a continuation then all parties should be able to continue in full faith that the arrangements are going to be fair for everybody concerned likewise if the company's going to sell off assets then of course we've got to be happy with what we get from the investments.
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