THE Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) has accused Rössing Uranium of breaking its promise of better employment conditions for the mine’s nearly 1 000 workers.
The union, over the weekend, also called on the mine for better relations with it, as an exclusive bargaining unit.
The union’s Rössing branch chairperson, Johannes Hamutenya, said there was great excitement last year when state-owned Chinese company China National Uranium Corporation Limited (CNUC) bought Rio Tinto’s 69% majority share for about N$1,5 billion.
“Employees leapt with joy after the company made promises of better job security and a prolonged life of the mine, compliance with legislation, agreements and policies, better conditions of employment and a continued recognition of the union,” said Hamutenya, “But all that was nothing but political and diplomatic stunts, as the union is now battling to safeguard the existing relationship and conditions of employment.”
Hamutenya is claiming that since the recent official wage negotiations began in November, the company and its management have been trying to derail the negotiations.
He alleged that the company is buying time to achieve its own objectives to the disadvantage of the workers and the union.
The annual wage increase seems to be one of the major issues, as, for the first time in a decade, the prospect of an increase is threatened. The workers have not received increased salaries, putting pressure on them and their families, according to Hamutenya.
He further claimed that the company rejected the union’s reduced settlement offer of more than 60% on the basic salary and 50% on the housing allowance of the original demands.
Because of the deadlock, the Office of the Labour Commissioner issued a certificate of an unresolved dispute of interest last Tuesday.
The same week, the workers unanimously gave a mandate to MUN to prepare for a strike.
Hamutenya also accused Rössing of pre-empting the outcome of the conciliation by preparing strike rules, which, according to him, “constitutes bad intention”.
The company is also accused of sidestepping communication protocols by going to the workers directly and thereby sabotaging the orderly wage negotiations by allegedly threatening job losses and the introduction of labour-hire, among others.
Rössing responded to questions by The Namibian in writing, firstly stating that CNUC’s acquisition of the majority shareholding in Rössing “averted an imminent closure of the company”.
It said such closure could have commenced in January, but the sale instead provided employment security to its workforce beyond January 2020, with a lifespan of the mine running to 2026, with further extension opportunities actively being investigated.
The company further stated that a large portion of special conditions imposed by the Namibian Competition Commission on approval of the merger was to protect the employment and conditions of employment of all Rössing employees.
“The company is strictly adhering to these conditions,” Rössing stated.
As for the annual wage increase, the company said the offer proposed by the company is more than double the annual year-on-year inflation rate, which it deemed to be “more than fair” in the depressed economic and commodity market.
“The union’s original demand was nearly 10 times the annual year-on-year inflation rate and unaffordable for the company,” Rössing said.
It further stated that the MUN declared the dispute and deadlock on wage negotiations.
“We have consistently indicated our willingness to negotiate with the union, which should take place around the negotiation table and not in the press,” it stated.
Regarding the strike rules, Rössing responded that due to the issuance of the certificate of an unresolved dispute, the union has the right to embark on a legal strike.
It explained that before that can happen, the parties need to meet and agree on strike and picket rules.
“In order to do this, both parties need to prepare their own draft of what they want to see in this agreement and then meet to discuss and agree on one document. Should they be unable to agree, the parties need to revert to the Office of the Labour Commissioner, who will then issue the strike and picket rules to be adhered to. This includes the process of how the voting process on ‘Strike/No Strike’ for affected employees in the bargaining unit needs to be conducted,” the mine explained. Rössing further stated that, as part of managing the business and keeping employees informed, the company communicates with its employees on various matters regarding safety, production and the state of the business, etc.
“The right of the company to manage the business, as well as the right of the union to represent members in the bargaining unit on matters of interest, is enshrined in the law and agreed upon in the recognition and procedural agreement between the two parties,” said Rössing, also calling MUN’s claims that the mine threatened job losses and closure, and the use of labour hire “untrue”.
SOURCE: The Namibian