- Mixed reactions as Debswana automates
- Debswana, De Beers underscore retooling to save jobs
- Botswana Mine Workers Union wants staff re-training prioritised
Mixed reactions to the impact of adoption of new technologies by mining companies in Botswana on jobs have arisen.
This emerged at the annual Debswana 2022 Business Seminar on Wednesday last week where it came to light that the country’s biggest parastatal and mining company, Debswana is fast-tracking automation for its underground project at Jwaneng Mine and Cut 3 project at Orapa Mine.
The company’s Head of Transformation and Innovation, Thapelo Balopi, said adoption of new technology is important and necessary to scale down input costs. Balopi was anxious to assure his audience that staff will not be laid off but will be retooled to adapt to new roles. He said automation is encompassed in the Debswana Strategy 2024, One Dream, One Team (ODOT), which is anchored on Botswana’s Vision 2036 and its thrust of transformation of Botswana from an agrarian economy to a knowledge-based economy.
“The strategy is very important in unlocking the growth of Debswana,” he said. “The Jwaneng Underground Project and Cut 9 at Orapa are the important vehicles of transformation. “Our aim is to innovate services. Technology will be able to help us to create more jobs that are innovation-led in the value chain.” Presenting the perspective of the company that owns half of Debswana, Executive Vice-President, Diamond Trading De Beers, Paul Rowley, said De Beers welcomes automation as important in the evolving mining environment.
He too emphasised that potential job losses are always guarded against when technology is adopted. “We have seen how the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global mining value chain and the adoption of technology ensured that our operations continue,” he said. “Workers are trained and adjusted to the new working environment. At De Beers, we have witnessed increased production and success from the measurement of technology.”
BMWU is skeptical
But there is considerable skepticism at Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) about jobs being secure in the face of automation. The union’s president, Joseph Tsimako, has told The Business Weekly & Review that while there is nothing wrong with mines embracing technology, but staff must be trained to adapt.
“Botswana is a middle-income country and we should be keen to compete with developed countries by embracing technology,” he said. “Our concern for now is that although we expect retooling and training of staff, the adoption of technology seems to be going too fast. We could experience massive retrenchments if training of staff is not fast-tracked.”
From a global perspective, research suggests that mining jobs are among the ones that artificial intelligence (AI) will take over first because adoption of robotics will change the future of work.
For example, research shows that over 30 percent of jobs in Britain are under threat from breakthroughs in AI technology. The point is that with pioneering advances in technology, many jobs that weren’t considered ripe for automation suddenly are. The top three sectors that are most exposed to threats of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are Transport and Storage, Manufacturing, and Wholesale and Retail with 56 percent, 46 percent and 44 percent risk of automation respectively. It is with this in mind that BMWU is urging local mining companies to benchmark in developed mining jurisdictions where automation has not displaced jobs.