Sunday, September 20, 2020

BMWU-Moolman Mining square off in yet another retrenchment fiasco

Botswana Mine Workers Union and Moolman Mining are embroiled in a fight over retrenchment packages. The standoff follows a retrenchment exercise by Moolman Mining in its Mowana and Tati Nickel plants. BMWU is unhappy with the retrenchment package offered by Moolman.
The Labour Department intervened last week after negotiations between the two were deadlocked.

An eight-hour mediation meeting between the two and labour officials on Tuesday came to naught, as they could not resolve the dispute. Indications are that the matter will be forwarded for arbitration.

Once a power player in Botswana‘s mining industry, with mining contracts at Norilsk Nickel’s Tati Nickel African Copper’s Mowana mine operations, Moolman Mining finds itself yet another victim of the plummeting base metal prices and the global economic recession. A slump in demand for copper saw African Copper suspending production at Mowana mine and putting the mine under care and maintenance while it tries to raise US$ 15 million from independent financiers to keep the company afloat.

Employees at Mowana mine, except for those in essential services have since been put on accrued paid leave for at least the next three weeks. A communiqu├® from African Copper also revealed that failure to acquire the required funding would mean that the company might not be able to meet its obligations going forward. Generally, financiers are skeptical to pour money into new operations like African Copper. Should African Copper be unable to raise the requisite US$15 million it is doubtful whether it will be able to meet its obligations in Botswana. At the same time, Tati Nickel, which is also working around the clock to streamline operations, reportedly asked Moolman to reduce its staff complement.
Moolman acted swiftly and announced that an estimated 400 workers would be laid off to reduce the company’s operating costs.

By Friday last week, 177 of the targeted 400 employees were given retrenchment letters. BMWU’s Kealeboga Keakantse told Sunday Standard that there are unconfirmed reports that the number might have exceeded the list of 177 that they had initially received from Moolman.

In a January 29th letter signed by Sean Stirling, Moolman management informed the employees that their positions had “become redundant” and therefore they “will be retrenched with immediate effect.”

For their separation pay, the employees would be paid one-week’s pay for every year that they have been in the employment of the mine, one months pay in lieu of notice, and wages up to 31 January 2009. The employees would also be paid wages up to and including the end of February to allow for the clearance process. The employees will also be entitled to accrued annual leave, year-end bonus, and severance pay, which transpire to one day’s basic pay in respect of each month of continuous employment.

However, the mineworkers’ union feels that the retrenchment package is not enough. For starters, the union feels that Moolman mining has done them a disservice by not consulting them in the initial phases of the retrenchment process.

“We believe that we are an indispensable stakeholder in this scenario. Moolman should consult and negotiate with us instead of presenting a scantily thought out retrenchment package in which we had absolutely no input,” fumed Keakantse on Friday.

BMWU also feels that the retrenchment package will benefit only a few of the employees while a majority of them walk away empty handed. Keakantse said that most of the employees at the mining company have been working for less than a year and the decision by Moolman to award employees with one week’s pay for every year of employment will automatically disqualify them from benefiting.

“We therefore feel that instead of crafting packages that will disadvantage most of the employees, Moolman should rather offer employees lump sum packages depending on their period pf employment,” said Keakantse.
However, Moolman would hear none of it, and negotiations between the two parties crumbled. BMWU thus ran to the Labour Department to seek their intervention, and the case went for mediation last week Tuesday. However, the Labour Department also failed to reconcile BMWU and Moolman mining and the case is reportedly set to be forwarded for arbitration.

Meanwhile, Moolman mining’s retrenchment exercise is in full swing and scores of young Batswana come back from work dejected, with retrenchment letters in hand, on a daily basis. The mediator is only expected to release an advisory award by Monday afternoon after which BMWU will seek the intervention of the arbitrator.

Moolman mining employees have also complained that the retrenchment exercise seems to be targeting locals as more and more of them are being axed while their expatriate counterparts remain employed. They told The Sunday Standard that the explanation that they get is that expatriates are more experienced.

Meanwhile, government is reported to have appointed a British company to come up with a strategy on how government can rescue the country’s fledging mining industry.

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Sunday Standard September 20 – 26

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 20 - 26, 2020.