TACTICS by the Chinese owners and managers of Namibia’s oldest uranium mine to decapitate the Branch Executive Committee (BEC) of the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN) at Rössing from its regional and national structure has failed.
The dispute started when the proxies of the Chinese Government, China National Nuclear Corporation, unilaterally decided to do away with a decades-old right of union representatives to be afforded their own office space for administrative purposes is now growing into an inevitable confrontation which could lead to criminal charges being brought against individuals in the mine’s management structure.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic and resultant restrictive measures have reduced a festering dispute at the mine to a contest of letter writing skills.
A letter of demand by the legal representatives of the BEC to restore the union’s entrenched rights led to the summary suspension of committee members and shop stewards which left workers on the mine without any representation and exposed to the whims of the Chinese managers.
To counter the move by the mine’s management, workers elected interim shop stewards to represent them if and when the need would arise.
The managers in a letter, however, notified the workers that the people in acting positions will not be recognised as legitimate union representatives.
The workers then countered by informing the management in a letter that they intend to withhold labour by staying on the buses that transports them until such time that they are allowed to hand over a petition in which they demand that the suspension of the BEC members must be lifted.
The mine informed the workers in a letter that “staying on the bus” would be tantamount to an illegal strike and in contradiction of a certain section in the Procedural Agreement that they have signed with their employers and that matter will be dealt with in terms of the company’s performance and conduct procedure.
The MUN’s Regional Chairperson, Abiud Kapere, said the situation at the mine has become untenable because the BEC members were suspended and that they were informed that it is subject to an investigation of some kind.
“We still have to be informed what the investigation is all about,” Kapere said.
He said that in the meantime the MUN’s regional leadership has engaged the mine’s management in a letter and requested that the handover of the petition be put on hold until an amicable point can be reached between the two parties.
“They have since sent us a letter that a moratorium was placed on further disciplinary action against the BEC members,” Kapere said.
The President of the MUN, Allan Kalumbu, said the current situation at the mine is of grave concern to the Union.
“The workers are left exposed and we are reduced to corresponding with letters to rectify the situation. It would be better if we all could sit around a table where the way forward can be hammered out and discussed,” he said.
Kalumbu said that with the State of Emergency in place the national body can hardly do anything and added that it would be a very sad day in Namibia’s labour history if the COVID-19 pandemic is used as a loophole by the management of China National Nuclear Corporation to dismiss workers.