Mining industry loses 138,000 jobs

Published September 2, 2020, 5:00 PM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

As many as 138,000 jobs in the mining sector were lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, a top official from the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) said.

As this developed, the MGB is now seeking the approval of President Rodrigo Duterte for a mining sector program with specific recommendations on how the extractive industries could help the Philippine economy recover from the pandemic-triggered recession.

MGB Director Wilfredo Moncano said in a text exchange Wednesday that approximately 138,000 jobs both in the metallic and non-metallic sector were temporarily lost during the first three months of COVID-19 lockdown.

This doesn’t include yet the jobs lost from the small-scale mining sector, he noted.

“Similar to other industries, the mining sector lost export production values, taxes not raised, employment losses, undelivered supplies, among others, for the three months that the mining companies were prevented from operating,” Moncano told Business Bulletin.

“While it has been allowed to resume work now, the mining companies have to bear the strict health protocols issued by the IATF [Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases],” he added.

According to him, the estimated export revenue lost during the lockdown period was estimated at P14.1 billion.

 In a separate interview, Green Thumb Coalition (GTC) Convenor and Alyansa Tigil Mina (ATM) National Coordinator Jaybee Garganera said they indeed observed some retrenchment announcements by some mining companies, especially in the mines’ support services and sub-contractors side.

For instance, he said some employees working for the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold mining project of Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) are now feeling uncertain about their employment status, while there had already been temporary lay-offs at Nueva Vizcaya’s Didipio underground gold and copper mine project of Australian-Canadian miner Oceana Gold Philippines, Inc. (OceanaGold).

The Tampakan project is now the largest stalled mining venture in the country, which has been put on hold since 2010 after the Local Government Unit of South Cotabato banned open-pit mining in the province.

Didipio, on the other hand, has not been operational since last year after its Financial or Technical Assistance Agreement (FTAA) expired.

 As for Global Ferronickel Holdings Inc. (FNI), the third largest nickel ore producer in the Philippines and the largest single lateritic mine exporter in the world, FNI President Dante Bravo told Business Bulletin that as far as the nickel industry is concerned, job losses are minimal.

“We are not operating in full capacity because of limited movement of people. We are able to hire less drivers and operators. We have to defer and/or limit implementation of capex (capital expenditure] like buildings and other structures because of the relative difficulty in moving construction materials,” Bravo said.   

“There is a lot of delay in the delivery. We also have to limit exploration activities because of the overall uncertainty. Hence, to that extent we have certain job losses,” he added.

He also said that particularly in the months of March, April, and June, “job losses were greater because we suspended operations up to the first week of May”.

 “When we resumed operations in May, we were operating at 50 percent capacity until June,” he further said.

 Now, what MGB is proposing is for the Philippine government to allow the potentials of the mining industry to help the Philippine economy recover. Hence, the mining sector program was submitted to the Office of the President and its parent agency Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

When asked to provide a gist of the program, Moncano said it “will be premature to trumpet its content when it has not yet been seen by the addressee.”

“Safe to say that the mining sector proposed and believes that the mining industry sector can help during these times that there is a serious drop in economic activity because of the pandemic,” Moncano further said, adding that the memo contains recommendations from the mining sector.