Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Debswana mines shut-down, employees on savage salary cuts

The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BOMWU), the country’s most militant trade union this week angrily accused the Debswana management of “dishonesty” as the eleventh hour negotiations aimed at finding ways of minimizing the impact of the closure of its mines on workers “collapsed” Thursday night.

Debswana, the country’s highest foreign currency earner ÔÇö making up to 33 percent of the GDP ÔÇö is aiming to shut-down Jwaneng and Orapa/Lethakane mines for two months with effect from Wednesday while production at Damntshaa and Orapa Number 2 plant will be cancelled for the rest of the year.
Further, production at all Debswana mines will savagely cut-down on their production for the year from 34 million carats per annum to 13 million caratsÔÇöway above Finance Minister, Baledzi Gaolathe, stated in his budget speech.

“The negotiation did not go well. Instead of negotiations, the management told us that they were just consulting us and the negotiation process was then aborted,” Secretary General of BOMWU, Jack Thagale, said.

The two parties met for the best part of this week up to Thursday to try to work out the modalities of the shut-down and the suspension of the operations at Damtshaa and Orapa Number 2 Plant as the global economic down turn is taking a toll on the world prices of diamonds.

“We think that the management is being dishonest and, instead of negotiating the terms and working conditions of the workers, they are just telling us that they are merely consulting.
“Even with cases of Damtshaa and Orapa Number 2 Plant, where management is claiming that there is surplus staff, they do not want to exercise the retrenchment agreement that we have entered into,” Thagale said.

According to documents presented to the joint negotiating team and that have been passed on to Sunday Standard, out of the 580 staff compliment at both Damtshaa and Oarapa Number 2 plant, 235 people will be treated as surplus staff but management flatly rejected attempts by the union to give them packages.

The documents presented by Balisi Bonyongo, the general manager of Jwaneng Mine, workers are demanded to go on two months’ leave during the shut-down period but of which they will be paid for only one month.

The only workers who are not to go on forced leave are those providing essential services in areas such as hospitals, schools, training centers at Orapa and Lethakane mines, group projects and water, power and fire services.

The management also called for early retirement for all employees who are above the age of 50 years. Further, the management called for “voluntary special leave” which could be taken for a minimum period of three months while employees’ salaries will be slashed by 70 percent and remain with what was called a “retainer fee of 30 percent” and will not accrue leave days during that time.

According to the documents presented by Boyongo, the “final decision” by management was to be communicated to the employees by Friday 20.
“The best thing to happen is to give them packages but they have refused to entertain that.

“We do not know what will happen to them when the mine re-opens on April 14. All the mines are shutting down next Wednesday and when they re-open where will they go if we do not finalise their cases?

“It appears the management wants these people to come back and find themselves with nothing do and get frustrated and resign and in that way they would lose their benefits,” he said.

By the end of the week, the union was frantically trying to get an appointment with Minerals, Energy and Water Affairs Minister, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, to get him to intervene on behalf of the miners.

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Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.