Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources Kitso Mokaila will on May 10 meet with members of the Botswana Mine Workers Union - BCL branch to respond to a petition they handed him recently.
Mokaila confirmed the meeting in an interview with Botswana Guardian but could not go into details. The situation at the BCL mine, which employs close to 5000 people, compelled miners to protest to Mokaila last week. They told this paper that the situation has gradually deteriorated and requires major changes in the shortest time.
“The productivity and profitability of the company, safety standards together with employees’ morale declined drastically following the departure of the then general manager Montwedi Mphathi,” reads the petition.
In addition to the job losses, below are issues that the union wants Mokaila to address:
The union wants the minister to find out why BCL pay structure is ‘top-heavy,’ that is, pays management from MP1 level a lot more than it does to the rest of the workforce below, especially union members. Average monthly salary is currently P1 450, having gained a P50 increment and P90 per month as underground allowance since the last petition in 2014. “These are people who dig copper but earn peanuts. They work in the most risky areas of the mine and suffer many fatal accidents,” it says.
The union wants to know why the housing allowance for its members is at P388, which is far below the market rate, citing the P2 200 rental for low cost Botswana Housing Corporation houses as an example. The problem, they say, is that allocation of company houses at BCL is selective and discriminatory in favour of managers with some of the union members having waited to get a house for more than 20 years.
Apartheid style living conditions
Mokaila is also tasked with explaining why management of BCL is dragging its feet in converting hostels into studio type single accommodation as per an agreement signed by the two parties in 2014. “This form of accommodation was used by apartheid masters but BCL still uses it to house more than 800 employees who are deprived a chance to stay with their families against their will.”
Transportation of Shaft workers
In addition, the minister will respond to why transportation of employees at No. 1 and 3 shafts is not being done to the extent that employees have to hire public transport or walk to work. Further, why medical boarding package is equivalent to six months’ worth of salary despite that in a majority of cases medical boarding arises from work related causes.
Unsafe mining methods
BCL unionists also want Mokaila to investigate methods used for mining and lack of compliance with mining regulations, use of fixed term contract employees and lack of training, which compromises mine safety, resulting in frequent fatal accidents witnessed at the mine. A total of seven fatal accidents and 89 lost time injuries were recorded between January and February 2015. 15 mine workers died on duty underground at BCL in the last five years.
Withdraw business reorganisation
The union’s position is that the current business reorganisation must be withdrawn pending finding of the commission, adding that they see it as a plot by management to cover up their costly failures at the expense of employees and the company. They want the minister to examine viability of the BCL Polaris II as a strategic business diversification initiative and possible depletion of cash reserves.