The resumption of mining is happening at great speed, despite the continuing statistics on new cases of the Covid-19 virus. According to industry sources quoted by Reuters, the plan is that the sector will be back to at least 80% of capacity by the end of June and that, by the third quarter, production should be back to normal. Forty-one large firms have passed the government’s tests for safe working and are busy ramping up output. Smaller firms are going through the approval process.
The strategy to re-open has four main components: mass testing, isolation, distancing rules and reorganisation of shifts. A ‘shift’ in a typical mine refers to the amount of time a worker spends at the mine and can be anything from 14 days upwards. A principal strategy, given that workers must isolate when they first arrive, has been to lengthen the shift and thus to help the economics of the process. This is causing resistance, according to Jorge Juárez, the leader of the mining and steel workers’ federation, when the length of the shift rises to as much as 42 days. Some companies are housing families on site to facilitate the longer period of work.
Testing is giving rise for concern as well: the rapid tests being used (some 90,000 done so far) are considered unreliable. Juárez is arguing for molecular tests and more checks for safety.
According to Pablo de la Flor, executive director of the Miners’ Association (SNMPE), interviewed by Reuters, distancing is also a challenge in mining and something the sector is “trying to solve”.
Despite such hesitations, there are indications of growing confidence in the mining sector. Southern is taking the lead in proclaiming investment plans. In an interview with BNamericas, CEO Oscar González declared plans to invest up to US$8.5billion in a series of initiatives in their Peruvian mines. These include, surprisingly, US$1.4 billion in Tía María, so long the focus of much opposition to the point where the government declared last year that no resumption could be possible without consensus on the construction licence, bitterly opposed by local communities.