The strained relationship between mining giants, Tati Nickel Mining Company, and its employees, represented by the Botswana Mine Workers Union, has once again come to the fore after union members once again slammed the mining giant for what they call “flawed recruitment procedures”.
Tension heightened between Tati Nickel and its disgruntled employees last week when the Chairman of the BMWU Tati Nickel branch, Kabelo Maano, told a media delegation and representatives of the International Labour Organization that the mining company’s employment procedures, which involve the use of labour hire contractors are flawed and only work to thwart the development of citizen employees while at the same time enriching the said labour hire company whose directors are said to be bosom buddies of the mine’s top management.
Since it was officially opened in 1993, Tati Nickel Mine has had to grapple with accusations of corruption, racism and unfair recruitment procedures. The BMWU regional head honcho also revealed that they have made incessant pleas and presentations to ministers Moeng Pheto, Oliphant Mfa, Gaotlhaetswe Matlhabaphiri, Charles Tibone and, recently, Ponatshego Kedikilwe but to their dismay nothing has been done to address this burning issue.
The District Commissioner, Sylvia Muzila, has on numerous occasions received petitions from unemployed citizen mining graduates who alleged that they are sidelined during recruitment while less qualified expatriates, especially Zimbabweans, are always favoured.
Last year, a report on a survey done by the Department of Mines also revealed that Tati Nickel employs more foreigners than any other mine in Botswana.
Maano launched a no-holds barred attack on Tati Nickel lambasting their relationship with Kabonako Construction, a labour hire company that recruits ad-hoc manpower for the mining giants at times of need, saying that the relationship has resulted in a lot of employees being exploited as they are continuously denied their rights and paid less than what they are worth while they cannot do anything as they are desperate for employment.
The Tati Nickel region chairman who is employed as an artisan electrician by the mining company also revealed that while the mining giant directly employs around 1400 people, there are around 3400 contract employees who are currently working at the mine as contract employees sourced by Kabonako Construction.
He also revealed that these contract employees are exploited in that they are paid very little with no regard to their expertise. For example, he said, Kabonako Construction pays its employees a flat rate of around P38 per hour while they charge Tati Nickel P105 per hour, and then proceeded to pocket the rest. Giving example Maano said that the entry level remuneration for an Artisan Electrician employed by Tati Nickel ranges at around P8-9000 while those employed through the labour hire company earn around P5000.
He also revealed that unlike their counterparts, employees sourced through Kabonako are exploited in that they are denied benefits enjoyed by Tati Nickel employees like leave days, bonuses and sick days even though they perform the same duties under the same conditions.
The Sunday Standard is informed that even though employees have raised complaints during consultations with the labour commissioner, ministers and member of parliaments nothing has up to now been done to rectify this deplorable situation.
In a bid to earn more money, contract employees are said to be putting in more work hours with very limited rest which BMWU says has put a toll on their productivity and raised concerns of safety because they are prone to accidents as they are almost always fatigued. Their tragedy, however, is worsened by the fact that most of the fruits of their toil end up lining the pickets of the directors of Kabonako Construction.
Allegations were also raised at the meeting to the effect that labour laws are continuously flouted in such scenarios as employees are dismissed unfairly and sometimes work without work permits. “Employees who raise complaints with Tati Nickel are told to address their complaints with Kabonako where they are almost always fired as they are seen as firebrands,” he said.
“As BMWU we are baffled by Tati Nickel’s continued insistence on working with such companies because it disadvantages both the employees and the company,” he said. According to Maano, while Tati Nickel pays artisan electricians around P8-9000 per month they end up paying the labour hire company in the region of P27 000 for the monthly services of one employee such that it is also costly to the mining company to continue using the services of Kabonako Construction.
He, however, did not rule out the possibility of some of the mine’s management working in cahoots with Kabonako.
”We have in the past told them that we suspect that they must be getting kickbacks from this company,” he said. He further alleged that while the company has in the past tried to hide their corruption trail by changing their trading names, especially when the employees put pressure on Tati Nickel, they are aware that the management remains the same.
“This company was initially called Sowa Enterprise, then A to Z and is now Kabonako Construction. It is still owned by the same people. Why the repeated change of names when we raise complaints? There is something fishy here,” he charged.
However, the directors of Kabonako Construction, Deon Van Zyl and Tony Forsyth, rubbished the allegations of the BMWU representative saying that their contract with Tati Nickel only requires them to source manpower on behalf of the mining company only where there is a demand for more labour. “There are times when the mine requires additional staff, like during shutdowns, and we only provide manpower in such cases,” they said.
The two directors also revealed that because they only provide manpower to the mine on a short term contract basis such employees cannot enjoy the same benefits enjoyed by permanent Tati Nickel employees because they only work for a couple of months. However, Maano told The Sunday Standard that there are employees who have been employed by Kabonako Construction at Tati Nickel for more that five years and some of them are presently still working at the mine.
Van Zyl also explained that they always give preference to locals in their recruitment and they always operate within the confines of the law adding that they are in perfectly good terms with the labour department.
Without outlining their rates the two directors dismissed allegations that they rip off employees saying that the recruitment business is a costly endeavor and it is only sensible that they put a small mark up to sustain their enterprise. They also explained that they have a two tear contract with Tati Nickel which they won through an open tender. Once again, Maano rubbished this claim saying the recruitment company has always been under the same management but only changed names three times while management remained the same and they have always recruited for Tati Nickel.
Van Zyl and Forsyth also revealed that sometimes their employees are required to work for the mine for long term continuous periods like 2 to 3 years, especially when there is a need like when the mine employee is on study leave. They also revealed that there have been instances where the mine has employed one of their employees on a full time basis if there was a need. “You must understand that there is a dire shortage of qualified personnel like riggers, electricians and instrumentation technicians and we are doing a great service to the mining industry,” they concluded.
In a previous interview Botswana Mining Workers Union President, Chimbidzani Chimidza, did not mince his words when he shot salvos at the government for “selling Botswana to international mining conglomerates.”
“Botswana allows mining companies to hire out mining brokers as their employment agents,” he said, adding that what they do not realize is that these brokers are actually sister companies to the operating mine, such that there is a monopolistic environment in which Batswana are the sacrificial lambs.
Chimidza also said that the use of mining brokers is aimed at killing mining unions because the brokers employ expatriates who are not allowed to join unions.