Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Debswana troubles deepen

A review of the troubled Debswana Diamond Mine operations was this week floundering in a crisis after the Botswana Mine Workers Union walked out of negotiations with Debswana management in protest.

Negotiations to review the operations of the mining giant have hit a stalemate because union representatives will not sit around the table with management unless the meeting is chaired by a mine manager as per instructions by the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe.

The negotiations were to review wages, retirement and occupational health and safety agreements, and also militate against the anticipated retrenchment of 1278 Debswana employees. A communiqu├® from Ntoti Mosetlhe, the spokesperson of the Joint Negotiations and Consultation Committee, says the June 30th meeting failed to reach a conclusion after union representatives walked out.
“The union’s contention was that the management team should be represented by a General Manager, in line with the high level decision taken at a ministerial level in Orapa,” she said.

After visiting Orapa in March, President Ian Khama instructed Minerals Energy and Water Resources minister, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, and Labour and Home Affairs minister, Peter Siele, to investigate the goings on at the mine.

According to BMWU Secretary General, Jack Tlhagale, the two ministers visited the mines and later instructed the mines’ General Managers to always attend the JNCC meetings.

Contrary to the ministers’ instructions, said Tlhagale, the General Managers have repeatedly absconded from the meetings, instead delegating Debswana’s Group Human Resources Manager to chair the meetings on their behalf.

Tlhagale said they have expressed dissatisfaction with the obtaining scenario but to no avail. He insists that the General Managers of Debswana’s two mines should meaningfully participate in the negotiations as they are conversant with issues of production, unlike the Human Resources Manager who resides in Gaborone.

“The Human Resources Manager is the custodian of employees’ welfare. Her continued chairing of the negotiations is tantamount to not only insubordination against ministerial instructions, but an abdication of her responsibilities,” he said.

But Debswana management insists that a Memorandum of Understanding endorsed by both parties empowers any of them to nominate its own chairperson to the negotiating team. Debswana also argued that Kedikilwe’s decision states that in the absence of the General Manager, management can appoint its own chairperson to represent them at the negotiating table.

“Management implores the union to reconsider their stand for the sake of progress. We have never dictated to the union who their chairperson should be. By the same token, they should not dictate to management who their chairperson at the JNCC should be,” said Ntoti Mosetllhe. She went further to say that the union’s refusal to engage in talks compromises the interests of both Debswana and its employees.

But BMWU remains adamant that the JNCC should be chaired by the General Manager. They have since written to Kedikilwe asking him to intervene in the standoff and bring Debswana to order.
“A JNCC scheduled for June 13 failed to do business as the Group Human Resources Manager insisted on chairing for the second time since we last met, against the agreement reached by both parties under your guidance. Union branches have instructed us to approach you to enforce the terms you briefed in your address to Orapa workers on 31 May,” said Tlhagale in a letter addressed to Kedikilwe.

After refusing to effect salary increases for employees, Debswana management recently capitulated and offered a 2 percent salary increase. Tlhagale, however, bemoaned the fact that the meager salary increase comes with other debilitating cost cutting measures like reduction of gas and electricity subsidies to employees. Debswana employees will on July 13th stage a peaceful demonstration in Orapa and Jwaneng to petition the board chairman about their grievances.

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