Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Mine union faces off with Debswana

The P110 legal dispute between Debswana and INFORTRAC this week branched off into an industrial dispute with theBotswana Mining Workers union (BMWU)joining the fray.

BMWU has latched on details of the secret agreement between Debswana and INFOTRACT on how the giant mining company illegally spyed on its staff.

The secret agreement is now the subject of a legal dispute which is expected to shed light on why Debswana allegedly tried to cover up the truth behind the suspension of its senior officers.  A letter by BMWU takes Debswana management to task over the illegal spy operation.

Responding to Sunday Standard enquiries, Head of Corporate Affairs, Rachel Mothibatsela said: “Yes we can confirm receipt of the BMWU letter and further confirm that Debswana management is giving it the due consideration in line with established Union and Management engagement protocols.”

The letter from the union, signed by Maenge Maenge, acting secretary general states: “In light of the nature of our economy, alleged repudiation of this agreement has far reaching implications to Debswana and by extension the Republic of Botswana, whose economy is dependent on the diamond industry.”

The letter titled: “Controversy surrounding the suspension of Debswana senior management” addressed to Debswana management states that “Please be advised that the union has taken a keen interest in the matter and has undertaken its own investigations which have unravelled disturbing facts surrounding INFROTRAC and its purported legal suit.”

Maenge indicated that the extent of the alleged mismanagement within the organisation and the discoveries the union unearthed as it ‘penetrated’ the Debswana corporate ladder is “shameful and embarrassing to say the least.”

Maenge expressed disappointment at the apparent cover up.

“In the interest of Debswana employees herein represented by BMWU, the following is being brought to the attention of Debswana management,” Maenge said.  

BMWU is convinced that Debswana Management has not been forthcoming with information relating to among others, the material facts relating to the suspension of some of its senior officers and the material facts surrounding the legal debacle between Debswana and INFOTRAC (Pty) Ltd, represented by its Managing Director.

The Union expressed its profound disappointment after it unearthed what it believes to be material facts that led to the suspension of some of the senior management of the company.

“The suspension of senior Debswana officers was not as a result of whistle blower’s report but rather a result of a demand for specific performance by INFORTRAC of an agreement concluded by senior officials in question.  This contradicts all and any communication previously furnished BMWU leadership and employees,” the diamond mining giant said.

Maenge stated “The circumstances leading to the Court action by INFOTRAC relates in part to the appointment of former Debswana Managing Director, Mr. Albert Milton and not what Debswana Management had presented. Debswana, it would appear, has breached its contract with INFOTRAC by failing to settle amounts owed and due to the company.”

On a related matter, the union said it is in possession of information indicating that on or around September 2018, Debswana has surveillance ‘spy’ spy equipment which were installed at its premises and in vehicles with intention to spy on staff, especially members of the BMWU.

“The union is thus outraged that Management would sanction such illegal means to secretly pry on the affairs of its staff and union members at the workplace. The union is of the opinion that there has been material breach of the industrial relations between BMWU and Debswana Management,” BMWU said.

Debswana said it does not have a programme of covert surveillance on its employees and business partners. Senior leadership has not sanctioned nor is it aware of any spying on employees. This matter is under investigation. Furthermore, the company said, such practices will be contrary to their Code of Conduct and appropriate measures will be taken against those who contravene it.

“Debswana code of conduct emphasises that Debswana specifically commits to respect the privacy of each individual, and comply with all applicable laws on the collection, storage, use, retention, transfer of personal information, as well as to use that information for lawful purposes,” said Mothibatsela.

The union added: “This is not the first time Debswana has purported to install spy equipment in the workplace. The courts have previously ruled against invasion of employee’s privacy through the placing of cameras and other devices in the workplace. Management will remember very well that these concerns raised and successfully argued in court.

“It’s surprising that this issue is being introduced. The BMWU is very much concerned that it seems this issue ‘spy cameras and other spy devices’ will never remain permanently in its death bed.”

According to BMWU, “In light of the revelations above, the Union proposes a meeting with the managing director at the earliest opportunity to address the issues raised herein. The union views these issues as extremely sensitive and urgent as they have far reaching social, political and economic implications to employees and stakeholders at large.”

The union warned that “Should Debswana Management not accede to the urgent request for a meeting to address these issues, commensurate action and discourse shall be engaged to ensure that the above matters are addressed.”

Initially Debswana had stated that the senior management officers were suspended after they falsified a whistle-blower’s report.

Asked to share more details on the contentious saga, Mothibatsela said “Please note that whistleblowing or a tip-off can be reported in various ways; such as a walk-in to any of the Debswana offices and reporting verbally; sending a letter to any of the Debswana offices; sending an email to the ethics email address, through our website or phoning our toll-free ethics hotline.”

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.