Government breached its statutory obligation to safe guard Majwe employees jobs-Union

Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) is forging ahead with its efforts to secure re-absorption opportunities for all former employees of Majwe Mining. 

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The Union is now calling for Government intervention into the matter, noting that regulation 30E of the Emergency COVID regulations was trampled upon as a result of the termination of mining contract by a company partly owned by Government. 

Early this year Debswana, Botswana’s flagship mining company and the country’s largest private sector employer terminated its contract with Majwe Mining.

Debswana had engaged Majwe for its Jwaneng Mine Cut 9 expansion project, for a period of 9 years. However the contract was terminated by Debswana noting “internal reasons” and transition to an in-house hybrid model. 

The Cut 9 project will take Jwaneng, the world richest diamond mine by value to 2036 and Debswana said after termination that Cut 9 operation will now transition to an owner-mining operation, with some of the key services and resources, such as labour, being provided by contractors/service providers to Jwaneng Mine. 

Hundreds were left jobless. While there was initial talk that Debswana would absorb all Majwe employees, the company later denied any obligation to such. The General Manager of Jwaneng Mine Koolatotse Koolatotse revealed at a stakeholder engagement briefing late April this year that Debswana would not absorb all employees of the former Cut 9 contractor.

“Debswana did not commit to absorbing Majwe Mining employees” he said.Koolatotse explained that Majwe employees would not be given any preference.

“In recruiting new skills for our new hybrid model we are  publicly floating request for expression of interest , that is to say anyone who has the skills we require for our new in-house model is welcome, it will not be based on whether you worked for Majwe or not” Koolatotse  said in April. 

In a dispute that reached the industrial Court the Botswana Mine Workers Union said late May that Majwe Mining Joint Venture Management had initial agreed on the 16th February 2021 to enter into negotiations for employee’s separation packages.

According to Botswana Mine Workers Union,  Majwe later  somersaulted  on the agreement contending that employees separation packages were not provided for in the employment laws under State of Emergency and further that proposition for separation packages by the Union were “consultative not negotiable”. 

The Union proposed to Majwe Mining management to consider invocation of section 25 of Employment Act, by mutual agreement. Still in the May statement BMWU said its intention was to cater for financial commitments which employees had made with various banks and other financial institutions.

The parties could not reach a consensus on the interpretation of memorandum of agreement, declared a dispute and referred the matter for private mediation.

Private mediation was held on the 18th March 2021, central to mediation proceedings was the interpretation of “negotiable” and “consultative” matters under the Memorundum of Agreement as contended by Majwe management inthe determination of the Unions proposal for the payment of separation packages. Parties reached a deadlock and referred the matter for private arbitration.

Private arbitration was convened on the 25th March 2021. The ruling was delivered on the 26th March 2021, in favour of Majwe Management. The Union challenged the Arbitration Ruling and filed an urgent application at the Industrial Court on the 6th April 2021. The case was argued on the 19th April 2021 and just was reserved.

This week BMWU challenged government to intervene saying the regulations set under State of Emergency had the effect of suspending employer’s ability to dismiss or retrench employees during the period. “This was a commitment made by Government and endorsed by the National Assembly in April of 2020” the Union reiterated.

Making its call, the Union submitted that “on the 4th April 2021, a year after the coming into force of these regulations, Debswana Diamond Company was permitted by the Government of Botswana, a shareholder in the Company, to terminate Majwe Mining Joint Venture’s Cut-9 project contract under the guise of Citizen Economic Empowerment.” 

This was despite the contract still remaining with five (5) years. Consequently 580 workers lost their jobs. According to the Union, termination of Majwe contract was equivalent to an indirect retrenchment which violated the Emergency Covid -19 Regulations. 

Botswana Mine Workers Union argues that after termination of the contract, no undertaking to absorb Majwe ex-employees was immediately made by either Debswana or Government.

“There was no provision for workers’ re-deployment to other sub-contracting companies. This was despite the Minister of Minerals, Hon, Lefoko Moagi’s proclamation during the February Parliament Session that “no Motswana would lose employment” in response to a question in relation to the Majwe debacle.” the Union submitted. 

BMWU say it intervened by negotiating with Debswana not to close its Cut-9 operations but to provide temporary employment to Majwe workers including in other Debswana sub-contracting companies. 

According to Botswana Mine Workers Union President Joseph Tsimako information gathered from Ministry of Minerals Resources, Green Technology & Energy Security confirmed that 440 Majwe employees were on fixed term contracts. 

A total of 318 workers were absorbed for cut-9 project. Sixteen (16) of those came directly from cut-8, while a 100 were absorbed by Debswana contractors; sixteen (16) employees were offered employment and refused and only five (5) employees resigned. 

According to BMWU records, Majwe had a compliment of 580 prior to the termination of the contract. Total of (140) employees remain jobless after failing to be absorbed.

A hundred (100) have been confirmed by the Union and forty (40) are unaccounted for. The Union further noted that it was not aware of any Majwe ex-employees who have declined a job offer. 

“This is despite the fact that employees who have been absorbed by Debswana contractors are paid less than what they earned at Majwe Mine” reads a statement from the Union 

Botswana Mine Workers Union further said it was in continuous engagement with its key stakeholders to get the 140 workers placement in other operations.

“Government breached its statutory obligation to safe guard Majwe workers employment, given the fact that it permitted Debswana to indirectly retrench workers through the termination of Majwe’s contract. Workers have been neglected and no effort is being made by Government to support BMWU interventions” the Union underscored in a statement. 

Pleading on behalf of the over 100  ex Majwe employees  Botswana Mine Workers Union called on Debswana and Government for the immediate re-employment of the former employees 

“Government should comply with the Emergency Powers Regulations; we further call on the Government to extend Social Protection assistance to ex-Majwe employees” 

In addition the Union pleaded with Government   and Debswana to expedite the appointment of the Cut-9 labour contractor. “We also call on all BMWU key business partners to consider absorbing unemployed Majwe employees”

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