Allegations of racism, abuse and corruption in the Francistown mining sector were flying fast and thick at a recent meeting of Francistown mine employees with Assistant Minister of Labor and Home Affairs, Gaotlhaetse Matlhabaphiri.
Tempers flared during the meeting as workers threatened that they would not be taking the issue lying down.
“We will not tolerate any fruitless visits from government officials anymore. Many have come before you and left with promises that something will be done to put these foreigners to task but we are still to see any results,” said an irate mine worker.
The employees also urged the minister to investigate the mining companies’ gratuity policy as they suspected that they are being swindled out of their gratuities.
An employee from Basil Read complained that they are not allowed to join unions until after three months of employment.
“But you find that even within those three months, we are repeatedly subjected to all forms of abuse and we remain helpless as there is no platform through which we can seek intervention,” he said.
They charged that mine managers are on a witch-hunt to eliminate Batswana who appear vocal and critical of the abuse against locals.
They poured scorn on the mining companies’ localization program, accusing the mining houses of repeatedly flouting employment procedures by appointing foreigners at the expense of deserving Batswana.
The labour department was accused of colluding with the mining companies and awarding work permits for posts which can be occupied by qualified Batswana.
According to the workers, they are always made to understudy less qualified expatriates but are never elevated to senior positions even after the expatriates permits had expired.
“While locals have no problem with disclosing their qualifications, expatriates are very secretive about their schooling and we suspect that some of them are not qualified for the posts that they hold because their performance on the field is very suspect, “said Tabona Gaopotake from Moolman.
Bodirelo Mosotho, from Stanley Mining, said that though they work shifts in very cold weather, their company does not make any efforts to provide them with protective gear.
“We feel that it is unfair for the company to abdicate responsibility and force us to purchase our own safety and protective gear because it is in direct contravention of the safety procedures of this industry,” he said.
They also alleged that some employees’ permits had expired but they still remained the employment of the mining houses.
“We have their names and we can give them to you now if you want so that you know who to look for when you visit the mines,” they challenged Labour Commissioner, Claude Mojafi. They also told the commissioner that the occasional raids that the labour department sometimes carries out with the police are useless as both departments have moles who forewarn the culprits before the raids.
Employees also alleged racism and ill-treatment saying that they are repeatedly subjected to racial slurs, insults and abuse by their South African and Zimbabwean counterparts. One employee said that he was recently called an unprintable name by his supervisor and his efforts to seek intervention with the labour department were fruitless.
Addressing their concerns, Matlhabaphiri and Mojafi said that government has a localization policy which clearly states that citizens should be given first priority in job allocations, and an expatriate can only be appointed if it has been proved that there is no suitable local available.
Matlhabaphiri cited government’s recent spat with KBL as evidence of their commitment to the localization program. They duo also urged unemployed locals to register with the labour office so that they can be easily located when posts arise. They explained that employers usually seek the assistance of the labour office when they want to recruit and it is easier to refer and check for qualified locals if they are listed with the labour office.
But the mine workers scoffed at the arrangement saying that the mining houses deliberately abuse the system as they almost always reject locals with the excuse that they failed interviews while the intention had always been to employ expatriates.
The commissioner stated that to combat expatriates abuse of the labour laws, they have requested that labour officers sit on the interview boards of the mining houses. The Sunday Standard is, however, informed that the labour officers have little or no influence in the interview process and its outcome as they are always at sea during the proceedings because they are not conversant with the technical language used during the interviews.
The labour commissioner also stated that they are aware that some mining companies have found a way of hijacking the localization program as they always create new unwarranted posts to accommodate expatriates whose permits have expired.
Matlhabaphiri explained that in a bid to push for localization, the government requests companies to present their training and localization programs and one of the requisites is that such programs must have a time frame and should have been instituted in consultation with employees.
Mojafi also conceded that they are aware that some mining houses employ expatriates in positions that they did not indicate when applying for work permits. He urged the employees to act as whistle blowers and report such incidents to the labour office so that appropriate action can be taken.