Glencore ( GLNCY ) plans to curb production at one of its biggest copper and cobalt mining operations, Mutanda Mining Sarl in Congo, according to people familiar with the matter, potentially taking a sizable portion of two important industrial metals out of circulation.
The company intends to cut about 2,000 workers at Mutanda, mostly contractors, the people said. The cutback in production is likely to be temporary as Glencore explores new copper-mining methods for the mine.
No full-time employees will be laid off from the mine, which at full capacity employed about 7,500 workers at the end of 2018, including contractors, a person familiar with the matter said. About half of the workforce cut will come from contractors whose terms with Mutanda are expiring, the rest will come from contracts that are being terminated, the person said.
Glencore’s copper operations in Africa produced 410,000 metric tons of copper in 2018, up 72% from 2017, and 38,000 tons of cobalt, a 61% increase. Mutanda, its most productive Congo mine, produced 199,000 tons of copper and 27,000 tons of cobalt last year.
That is about one-fifth of global cobalt production, making it the world’s most prolific producer of cobalt. The metal is a key ingredient in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric vehicles and smartphones.
Glencore in 2016 temporarily suspended mining operations at its other Congo copper mine, Katanga Mining Ltd., amid a sharp downturn in copper prices. That move caused copper prices to shoot higher. Glencore halted exports of cobalt from Katanga last year after it discovered some of the metal was radioactive. The company is installing new technology to decontaminate the metal.
Glencore could announce further details about its plans for Mutanda when it releases its annual results for 2018 on Wednesday.