Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Employees threaten Pula Holdings with court action following retrenchments

One of Botswana’s top business corporations, Pula Holdings, might face legal action from frustrated ex employees, after the company allegedly retrenched over 50 former employees from one of its business subsidiaries, Pula Energy Gas.

Narrating the story of their retrenchment to Sunday Standard, some ex-employees said they were, on the 19th of September, informed through emails that there would be a meeting but the agenda of the said meetings was not disclosed to them.

They, nevertheless, attended the meeting where Mr. D. Kalyanaraman, a General Manager of one of the subsidiaries, informed them on behalf of the Executive Committee of the retrenchment to be carried out.

After the meeting, the workers were offered two options, either to get retrenched or enter a new contract in which they would get half of their salaries.

However, many were left optionless and left, saying the new salaries were peanuts.

One top ex-officer said she used to earn P40 000 but in the new contract she was to earn P4 000, therefore she opted to leave.

On the 29th of September everyone to be retrenched was given reengineering letters with the following terminal conditions: “1 month pay in lieu of notice, 2. Leave accrued but not taken as at the 30th September 2009.”

The letter further stated that terminal benefits would be paid on the 15th October 2009. The reasons for the re-engineering as appearing on a letter dated 25th December, addressed to the Commissioner of Labour, are that “the Pula Energy Gas as a subsidiary of Pula Holdings Group has experienced a decline in business…”

The former employees stated that they were, however, never given benefits, while some were even booted out without the aforesaid one month pay in lieu of notice; others were not paid because of damages they were said to have caused to company vehicles.

They then decided to take it up with the labour office on the 22nd of October because they believed the rightful procedure was not followed in the re-engineering process. They said at least they should have been given notice well in time or a better package.

At labour, on the 27th of November, the mediating officer Mr. T. Ohentse found Pula Energy Gas of unlawfully reengineering, so said the ex employees. They further said Pula Energy Gas admitted of their error but nonetheless refused arbitration as suggested by Mr. Ohentse but rather opted to have the matter go to the Industrial Court, as the second option.

One officer who blamed the down fall of Pula holdings on mismanagement said Pula Holdings had entered into a deal with oil giant Total, that Total supply Pula Energy Gas with cylinders and in return Pula Energy Gas would buy gas from Total.

However, along the way, Pula Energy Gas opted for other suppliers over Total. Angered by the breach of the contract, Total then reclaimed all of its cylinders, something that resulted in low production by Pula, losing customers in the process, hence the retrenchment.

A former Human Resource manager of Pula Energy Gas holdings, who did not want her name revealed for fear of victimization, said all they just need is compensation for the injustice perpetrated upon them. She said she blamed the Executive Committee for the company going down the drain. “They didn’t listen to us when we offered suggestions, now they are cutting the self imposed cost at our expense,” she lamented.

What used to be a giant Motswana owned company seems to be dying a slow death after seeing some of its subsidiaries: Optimum Mcann- an advertising agency, Smart Investment- a liquor wholesaler closing in 2008, after President Ian Khama’s 30 percent alcohol levy. Pula Tecor an IT solutions company and T.K Trading, which dealt with industrial chemicals, closed in 2008, so testified one of the former employees.

Contacted for comment on the allegations, Pula Holdings Chief Executive Officer, Mrs. Masego Mwaaba referred Sunday Standard to Mr. Moatlhodi Motlhale, Pula Energy Gas General Manager, who stated that he could not go into the details of the matter.

He, however, said, “I can admit there has been some changes within the company.”

On whether they unlawfully retrenched some of its staff, he said vaguely, “I don’t think at this point in time we can determine the level of their happiness on the matter.”

Queried to give his view on other allegations he said, “I would rather be not going into those details as it might temper with the image of our company.”

One former Sales Executive who was retrenched together with five of six of his colleagues expressed dissatisfaction at the way they were treated, saying, “I can’t believe it, after slaving so long and hard for the company, we get this in return?”
He said he had been deeply affected as he could not afford to pay his children’s school fees nor pay rent here in Gaborone as the retrenchment was so abrupt.

Another angry Mail Room Assistant, who worked for the company for over three years, lashed at Kagiso Mmusi, the owner of Pula Holdings who is also the Botswana Democratic Party deputy Treasurer, for caring less for his company’s employees.

“He hardly holds meetings with his staff; the last time we saw him was at the company’s party sometime at the beginning of the year,” she said. “What pains me most is that he is a fellow citizen who could have come to us as a father and said ‘banaka komponi e na le mathata, ka jalo re tla fokotsa babereki, that would have meant a lot to us, instead he sends an Indian to us, people who don’t even know our constitution or care about humanity,” she lashed out.

A hopeless ex officer who worked for the company for seven years said all she needs is some compensation to start a new life, stating that it’s not that Pula Holding can’t afford to pay them, its intentional to have the case go to the Industrial court to strain us.

“They have money to pay us; they just want to screw us, if they didn’t have the money, they would not be living so lavishly,” she pointed.

The 18 complainants threatened to soldier on with legal action if their concerns are not attended to.

Also caught in the retrenchment exercise were top officers such as the Finance manager, Human Resource Manger and the Accounts mananger.

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