Thursday, April 9, 2020

BDVC employees face retrenchment

Scores of Botswana Diamond Valuing Company (BDVC) employees may be out of a job by the start of next year. A breakdown in communication between the Management of the Company and the Executive of the Botswana Diamond Sorters and Valuators Union (BDSVU) has left many of the company’s employees fearing for their job security. The Union is exploring options and legal action will follow unless BDVC management gathers their missing sense.
According to the Botswana Government Gazette dated 16 November 2007, notice is made in terms of Section 34 of the Insolvency Act, thus “Take notice that Botswana Diamond Valuing Company intends to dispose off its business in its entirety, to the Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB) on and with effect from 31 December 2007.”

However, Sunday Standard investigations reveal that BDVC has, since the inception of the talks about the DTCB as far back as 2005, impressed upon its employees that they will not loose their jobs in the advent of the DTCB take over. This seems to be the gist of the Union’s contention. According to information turned up by Sunday Standard investigations, BDVSU has previously sought explanation in 2006 as to the implications of the new company on their members’ future, to which the answer was categorical: “The proposed company is a new company that will absorb BDVC and the effect of the new company on BDVC’s terms and conditions of employment is that BDVC employees will be absorbed into DTC Botswana on existing terms.”

But lately the Managements position has changed dramatically. In a letter of 14 September 2007, the Managing Director of the new company, Brian MacDonald, informed the Union of possible “retrenchments” as a result of “restructuring” that might occur as part of the changeover from BDVC to DTCB. The letter further stated that notices of such lay-offs would likely be sent out in October, “subject to consultation” with the Union and in accordance with Section 25 of the Employment Act 14 of 2003. Lastly, the letter asserted that details of “severance pay, retrenchment benefits and assistance that will be given to retrenched employees will be provided to (the Union) during the first consultation meeting,” scheduled for 24 September. In response, the Union inquired in writing as to what alternatives to retrenching had been considered by the Management, and if layoffs were unavoidable, how many employees would be affected.

According to section 25 of the Employment Act, the company would use the ‘Last in, First out’ principle in selecting employees targeted for retrenchment. However, the employer has the right to consider its business priorities and if need be, retain certain employees despite their lack of seniority, on account of their potential usefulness to the company.

However, the issues of severance pay and retrenchment benefits and assistance were never raised at the meeting of 24 September. Instead, a memo outlining the details of retrenchment was then presented to the Union on 19 October.

The Union, according to information reaching The Sunday Standard, advised the management that they had a counter proposal to make in relation to the proposed organizational structure. Investigations conducted by Sunday Standard reveal that the labour executive’s proposal included, among other things, an organizational structure that is inclusive of the existing workforce. The management’s proposed organizational structure entailed the termination of about 90 jobs, 15 of which would come from the production side whilst the rest included what could be summed up as the maintenance personnel, i.e. cleaners, gardeners and carpenters.

To this effect and on the Union’s demand to have audience with the management to exchange on the memo and the Parties proposals on the suitable organizational structure for the new company, several times meetings were scheduled to address the issues, but as typical the management always had other things to do.

Instead, the Management delayed responding to the Union’s concerns until November 9th. Information turned up in investigations by Sunday Standard reveal that, at that meeting, BDVC management advised the Union that the company is now “winding up” and that it will be entirely up to the DTCB to consider whether they will absorb the current staff or not. The Union was also warned that it would, therefore, be a fruitless exercise trying to pursue the issue of voluntary exit packages. This statement, however, was a complete u-turn from the Management’s previous position that it would offer “voluntary separation,” as stipulated in its September 24th letter and then later compulsory retrenchment.

Just as problematic, the Union is receiving conflicting information from both the current company, BDVC, and the management of the new company, DTCB. To highlight the Union’s confusion, the September 14th letter from the Managing Director of DTCB ÔÇô the company that does not yet exist ÔÇô is printed on BDVC letterhead. This suggests that the Management of both the current BDVC and the Management of the new company that they will be working together very closely while leaving the Union in the dark regarding their exact intentions. While DTCB is technically a new company, it will still be owned by the same shareholders, the Government of Botswana and De Beers, who currently own BDVC. Information turned up by Sunday Standard investigations further reveals that the management already has definite timelines for specific activities, including dates for advertisements of positions and interviews. This despite the impression given that the present management has relinquished its responsibility to the BDVC’s current employees. Therefore, any suggestions by the Management of BDVC that all personnel matters will be up to the new company do not reflect the fact that these two companies are essentially one and the same thing. This technicality, however, provides little consolation to the Union.

And the Union is taking notice of the discrepancies. The labour leaders assert that “this is just a play on words.” Following Management’s pronouncements, the Union Executive wrote them a strongly worded letter seeking clarification as to the exact nature and content of the unfolding exercise in anticipation of the new DTCB. “Is it retrenchment, restructuring, or a winding up of the company?” they asked in their letter.

To compound the Union’s mistrust of Management, the same week that MacDonald’s letter of September 14th was served, Management, unilaterally and without cause, advertised its need for cleaning services in the Midweek Sun of September 19 as Tender number HO/E 40505. The Management took out the advert without consulting the Union leaders despite the fact that it currently employs cleaners. To this, the Union leaders did not take kindly. They protested Management’s decision arguing it was an act of bad faith, given their earlier assurances that they would bring the Union on board on all issues pertaining to the ongoing process of transition. In response, Management reversed their decision, though they claimed the tender was in line with agreements they previously made with De Beers.

Information turned up by Sunday Standard investigations reveals that BDVC continued to silently ignore the Workers’ representatives’ complaints that they are being assigned second place in a process that otherwise has significant bearing on their future. On November 5th, the new company announced the appointment of two most senior positions of Head of Human Resources and Head of Finance and Information Technology at the new company. This action, taken during consultations with the Union, strengthened suspicions that the Management had ulterior motives for doing things behind the Union’s back.

Sunday Standard investigations have turned up information to the effect that the BDVC management engaged people from DTC International since early 2006 whom it claimed were technical advisors to transfer skills to its staff at the BDVC premises. Surprisingly , though each time these “experts” (were to stay for three months) came, theoretically it was agreed they would target production supervisors but, as it were, they never really targeted any specific grade of personnel nor focused on any clearly defined needs. This led the Union to question the cost effectiveness of the decision and the management’s lackadaisical approach to the issue of skills transfer. Not atypical, they ignored the labour leaders concerns. Furthermore, there have been instances since about the same period when there were backlogs and the company arranged to have people coming from the UK to help alleviate the workload.

This time again, the Union protested arguing that since there are people doing a similar job in countries in the region, wouldn’t it be cost effective to contract them, at lesser expense than the far placed Britons. Once again the Union’s attempt to give advice fell through without any intelligible explanation given by management. The Union began to smell a rat .They began to suspect that the transferors of skills and backlog alleviators had more serious business coming here.

Contrary to expectation that issues scheduled for discussion on September 24 between Management and employees’ representatives would be addressed, Management began wandering hither and thither and double speaking, never really addressing the Unions concerns in a clear and direct manner.

Consequently, the Union decided to seek audience with the Assistant Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri on October 15 and with the Minister of Energy, Mineral Resources and Water Affairs, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, on October 27.

The basis of the meetings with ministers, according to the Union was to apprise them of their displeasure at what they perceived as underhanded tactics by the employer, bad faith in the consultations and an apparent haste in the way the BDVC management is conducting its affairs, especially regarding the impending DTCB takeover.

It would not be the first time that employees are left in limbo by an employer only to assume a different identity, in order to avoid liability to their employees. The International Chemical Energy Mines and General Workers Union (ICEM) at its Sub Saharan Africa Regional Organization (SSARO) Conference held in Gaborone, July 3-5 this year, observed that the problem is universal and a direct consequence of Globalization. The Conference further noted that: “Preoccupied with increasing profit for Shareholders and high bonuses for top management at the expense of sustainable development of the company, Multi-Nationals Corporations (MNCs) form many companies and outsource into sister companies to assume multiple identities…” It was further observed that in a bid to maintain minimal social responsibility, MNCs adopt risk avoidance policies, which include complete exclusion or weakening of the Trade Unions.

The ICEM World Congress which commences on Thursday 22 this month in Bangkok, Thailand, is expected to discuss the problem and come up with resolutions for ultimate remedial proposals to the International Labour Organization.

Barulaganye Gaaithoboge, a member of the BDVSU Executive, was scheduled to brief the ICEM World Congress on their ongoing tussle with the BDVC management. Gaaithoboge is also attending as President of the ICEM SSARO Women’s wing; she returns this week.

The letter written to management by the Union reads in part: “It is on the basis of the afore going that we demand clarification from management within 24 hours of receipt of this letter as to the true nature of this exercise.”

The letter, dated November 14, concluded, “Depending on your response herein it is our intention to approach the Industrial Court in an application seeking an order, amongst other things , declaring that the whole exercise (BDVC to DTCB changeover) is tainted with impropriety, irregularity and illegality.” Investigations by The Sunday Standard have turned up information to the effect that the BDVC management did respond to the Union’s letter, did not see Labour’s threats to arraign them before the Law as suggesting a train smash. ”We wish to reiterate what we have stated before on many occasions that it has always been contemplated that the setting up of DTC Botswana would mean that the business of BDVC will close down at some point.” reacted , management to the Union’s letter.

According to information reaching Sunday Standard, a battle of the titans is brewing.

One Union official said, ”By next week we should hear from our legal advisor as to the next course of action.”