The recent collapse of the Activox refinery plant continues to have crippling ripple effects in the local economy and labour fraternity. It emerged last week that the Botswana Mine Workers Union is embroiled in a bitter power struggle with stakeholders in the defunct multi billion Pula project, among them Botswana Metal Refineries, Botswana Confederation of Commerce Industry and Manpower, the labour department and the contractors who were involved in the construction of the refinery.
The Sunday Standard is reliably informed that negotiations between BMWU and the other stakeholders have reached a stalemate as they have failed to reach a consensus on the exit packages of the employees who were involved in the construction of the plant.
BMWU Secretary General Jack Tlhagale told The Sunday Standard last week that negotiations with the other stakeholders had collapsed and that the union had taken a decision to seek the intervention of the Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Resources Ponatshego Kedikilwe. “The minister has already indicated that he will meet us on Friday to discuss the issue,” said Tlhagale.
At the core of the disagreement is the amount and nature of packages that the employer, BMR, and the contractors, are supposed to pay their former employees. While BMWU insists that the employees are supposed to be paid all their dues, including separation and relocation packages the mining company is said to have remained steadfast that the employees will only be paid for the hours that they have worked. Tlhagale said last week that BMR insists that they can not pay the employees separation and relocation packages because they have not served the requisite notice as per the basic principles of Botswana’s labour laws.
“But we are adamant that the employees did not choose to close down the operations, and it was not their choice to leave employment. Therefore, they have to be paid all their dues including their leave days and separation packages. Why should they be punished for these developments when they had nothing to do with them?” asked an angry Tlhagale.
BMWU is also disturbed by the sneaky way in which the employer handled the whole issue of the suspension of the project. Tlhagale said that the management of BMR and the contractors did not effectively communicate with the employees about the implications of the suspension of the project.
“In a proper working environment there is always consultation. The events that unfolded as the project was suspended revealed a glaring lack of consultation between the employer and the employees. And we say that we are reading sinister motives behind their secrecy and the sneaky way in which they handled the whole issue,” he said.
It has also emerged that BOCCIM, who are also involved in the acrimonious negotiations, have also found themselves bearing the brunt of BMWU’s ire. The mine workers union has been repeatedly insisting that the contractors should be brought to the negotiating table as they were the direct employers. An insider revealed yesterday that an initially reluctant BOCCIM was pressurized into succumbing to do so by BMWU who argued that the contractors also have a role to play as they have to share the huge contract termination packages that they got with their employees, who now find themselves in the lurch.
As the situation unfolds, the Regional Labour Officer also finds himself caught in the crossfire as he has also been called upon to compel BOCCIM, Hatch Africa and BMR to bring all the contractors to the negotiating table, and also to mediate on exactly what benefits are due to the employees.
Another meeting is scheduled for Monday at which the BMWU is expected to again square off with the stakeholders, hopefully with renewed vigor should negotiations with minister Kedikilwe be positive. Tlhagale said on Friday that they are hoping for a positive outcome from their meeting with Kedikilwe, especially since government as a stakeholder agreed to the suspension of the project.
“It is our hope that government will have a positive response for us because we want to believe that they had the interests of the employees at heart when they agreed to the suspension of the project,” he said.