Tension is currently brewing at Botswana Ash (BOTASH) Mine in Sowa town as employees and management are at loggerheads over wages.
BOTASH which employs over 700 employees (both direct and indirect) is the largest producer of natural sodium products in the region.
Information reaching the Sunday Standard suggests that after the mine management had made an agreement last year to make a 6 percent wages increment which was to be effected beginning April 2020, it has since proposed a deferment.
Reasons advanced by the BOTASH Managing Director Kangangwani Phatshwane were that the mine business was affected by the effects of the current world wide Covid 19 pandemic leading to financial losses.
In a management brief document seen by this publication, BOTASH management said the Covid 19 pandemic forced suspension of the mine’s business due to a lockdown running for four weeks in South Africa. South Africa is the single largest buyer of BOTASH products. It imports 92 percent of Soda Ash and 50 percent salt from the mine. The brief states that, a South African company Sasol which buys their products particularly salt shut down its Chlor Alkali unit and suspended buying from the mine due to the Covid 19 pandemic resulting in P5.5 million revenue loss.
“Soda Ash demand dropped 60 percent resulting in more than P55 million in loss of Revenue. To the North, BOTASH has faced similar disruptions in the business. Eagle glass factory in Kapiri Mposhi Zambia closed occasioning a revenue loss of more than P1.2 million,” reads part of the brief document.
The management brief document further states that the flow of trucks in and out of Zambia where the mine also sells its products was interrupted for a week caused by uncertainties in procedures on both sides of the border resulting in BOTASH losing P.22 million in revenue.
However the employees through their union, Botswana Miners Workers Union (BMWU) are taking none of the reasons given by Phatshwane. They feel that the mine is taking advantage of the pandemic not to pay them their well deserved wages. The Sunday Standard is in possession of a letter from BMWU Branch at BOTASH responding to the proposed deferment dated 09 April 2020.
In the letter the union maintains that there is no provision for such an action in the agreement and therefore the union does not have any legal authority to re-open negotiation on such a proposal. The Union also states in the letter that the deferment has potential to cause a labour crisis amongst employees at the mine.
“Management’s proposal has been presented to the Union after the implementation date and as such we do not have the juridistiction to give it any consideration,” reads part of the letter.
The employees are also accusing management for making it a norm to subject them to back pays hence burdening them with Botswana Unified Revenue Standard(BURS) taxations resulting in loss of wages. The union further stated in the letter that the income of the employees post the lockdown will be negatively impacted by the downturn of the economy.
In the other letter dated, 20 May 2020 the Union accuses BOTASH for refusing to provide them with the wage bill for senior management. The union feels this defeats the purpose of meaningful bargaining.
A source from the mine who spoke on condition of anonymity said that it is not true that the mine financial status was affected by the pandemic.
“The Managing Director is hiding behind Corvid 19 pandemic. He is not telling the truth. Business at the mine was booming even during the lockdown period. Casual workers were even hired during this period as customers flooded the mine premises. The truck yard has often been congested with customers,” said the source.
However in a telephone interview with the Sunday Standard last week Thursday, BOTASH Managing Director Patshwane said the matter is highly confidential and could not answer the questionnaire from this publication. He however said he will refer the questions to the Human Resource Department who will answer some of the questions on Thursday.
“This is a very confidential matter but I will refer the questions to our Human Resources Department who will respond to some of your questions,” he said.
There was still no response at the time of going for press on Friday.
BOTASH produces 300 000 tones of soda ash and 650 000 tones of salt tones per annum. Salt contributes to 20 percent of the mine’s revenue while Soda ash contributes 80 percent. The mine exports its products to the following countries; South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia, Angola, Malawi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Saudi Arabia. The mine is owned by Botswana government and Chlor Alkali Holdings (CAH) Group, a South African company, at 50 percent shareholding each.