The Minister of Minerals Energy and Water Resources, Ponatshego Kedikilwe, has thumped his nose at Debswana management and embraced the Botswana Mine Workers Union in their ongoing war of words.
This comes after recent meetings between BMWU and Debswana to chart the way forward in the ongoing review of the troubled mining giant’s operations floundered in crisis as the union staged a walk out.
BMWU refused to partake in a June 13th Joint Negotiations and Consultations Committee meeting, saying the General Managers should chair the meeting as per Kedikilwe’s instructions. The negotiations were to review wages and retirement agreements, and also militate against the anticipated retrenchment of 1278 Debswana employees.
On the same date, Debswana Managing Director, Blackie Marole, wrote a scathing letter to BMWU, warning that further delays would compel Debswana management to exercise its right to take and implement decisions without the unions’ input.
“We find the new union’s position unreasonable. It is the prerogative of each party to elect its own chairperson. The union’s demand is not consistent with the provisions of our Memorandum of Agreement and global best practice,” he said. Marole further summoned BMWU to attend a JNCC meeting on June 28th.
Ever truant, BMWU replied and told Marole off, saying the spirit of the agreement does not give General Managers leeway to abdicate their responsibility to the workers, especially at a time when the mines are undergoing a massive operations review.
“The essence is not about interfering with your discretion, but for a General Manager, who is competent to manage employees’ contracts around the mine production plan, to drive the process,” wrote BMWU General Secretary Jack Tlgagale.
“In response to your threat to implement decisions without the unions’ input, I can only say I knew this was coming. This is your usual propensity. It seems the tendency is to contrive a problem which appears to be of mutual concern but disregard the union as a negotiating party, or rather put it on the foul side,” said Tlhagale.
BMWU further refused to accede to Marole’s summons to a meeting on June 28th, saying they will be held up with other union business. The union further questioned why Marole would remove General Managers from JNCC meetings after 40 years.
In the midst of this war of words, Kedikilwe intervened and sided with BMWU over Debswana.
“I remind the Managing Director of Debswana that there is no choice but to honour agreements reached by both parties between March and May 2010. The agreement was that the General Managers should chair JNCC meetings. The smooth operation of JNCC is critical to Debswana,” he said.
He further expressed hope that Marole will live up to his commitments and enable the JNCC to conduct its business as planned. It remains to be seen whether Debswana management will heed Kedikilwe’s advice.