Newly appointed Acting Industrial Court Judge, Harold Ruhukya, is from October 22 to 24 scheduled to hear the case of the 461 former employees of Debswana who were dismissed from work three years ago.
The employees are claiming that they were unfairly dismissed from work.
The strike that led to the dismissal of the 461 employees was staged for what the labour movement said was a fight with the multinational diamond mining giant for a living wage.
Debswana had, on the other hand, claimed that the workers had engaged in an illegal strike and that some of those who went on strike were essential employees, such as medical staff and ambulance drivers who were not supposed to go on strike in accordance with an agreement the management of Debswana has with the Botswana Mining Workers Union. The BMWU, which represents the workers, disputes that.
The workers were sacked together with their current Union leaders, Jack Tlhagale, the Union’s Secretary General, and the Chairman, Chimidzani Chimidza.
Their sacking from Debswana created a legal row within the BMWU as the old executive of the union refused to hand over Union assets to the new Executive on grounds that they could not lead the BMWU since they had been fired from Debswana.
This led to a court case which the incoming Executive won when the Court pronounced in their favour, saying they could still head the Union even though they were no longer employed by Debswana.
The battle for the control of Union assets continued and later saw several members of the old Executive being jailed for contempt of Court after failing to honour a judgment ordering them to hand over all union assets to the New Executive. And the row is still not over.
Recently, the New Executive threatened that they would go back to seek the Court’s intervention as there has still been no compliance on the part of the old executive.
Apparently, before the case was taken to the Industrial Court , the workers had unsuccessfully tried to solve the matter out of Court and had even petitioned President Festus Mogae asking him to intervene but without success.
More than a year ago, the BMWU approached the Industrial Court seeking a hearing but Debswana opposed that on grounds that there was no need to give the workers a hearing as they had, earlier on, ignored the Court’s order which instructed them to return to work.
After a long Court battle, Industrial Court Judge Ebrahim Carstens ruled in favour of the workers, saying that they have a right to be heard. That was the last time the case was heard of. But, two months ago, this led to the Union’s decision to petition the Minister of Labour and Home Affairs, Charles Tibone, under whom the Court falls, complaining that the Court was taking a long time to hear their case. They also complained that at least seven of their members had since died while waiting for the outcome of the case.