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Chinese mine owners trample on Namibian workers’ rights

Chinese mine owners trample on Namibian workers’ rights

Niël Terblanché


THE labour dispute between a branch of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) and the China National Nuclear Corporation Rössing Uranium Limited (CNNC RUL) will come under arbitration next week.


The arbitration hearing is scheduled to take place in Swakopmund from 16 to 19 April.


“The company is trampling on workers’ rights and the existing agreements we have with our employer. The MUN has spent decades negotiating excellent collective agreements and policies for its 780 members,” Johannes Hamutenya, the union’s Rössing branch chairperson, said.


Hamutenya was fired in August 2020, along with Julius Ashipala, Albertos Alexander Hennes Haraseb, George Martin, Samuel Shindume, Fillemon Ihuhwa, Paulus Shikongo, Hafeni Nalusha and Ruben Snydewel.


The group were all members of the MUN’s Rössing branch executive committee.


Hamutenya said the union was concerned when it heard CNNC RUL wanted to buy into the mine because the company had no experience in dealing with independent trade unions.


Chinese mine owners Namibian workers rights labour dispute Mineworkers Union MUN China National Nuclear Corporation Rössing Uranium CNNC RUL
PICTURED: Some members of the MUN Rössing branch committee that were fired. Photo: File


Workers unions are not allowed to exist in China.


According to Hamutenya, the company started to circumvent Namibia’s Labour Act within a few months after taking ownership of Namibia’s biggest and oldest uranium mine.


He said that CNNC RUL changed the terms of the company’s recruitment policy; removed the union’s offices, archives and boardrooms at the mine; did away with safety officers and affirmative action monitors; renegotiated the performance and conduct procedure, as well as the disciplinary code; reduced annual and sick leave days; and rewrote the retrenchment policy.


According to Hamutenya, the Chinese managers also wanted to do away with pay scales that were in breach of the Affirmative Action Act.


The company insisted on paying employees as they see fit, whereas the act states that jobs of equal value must be compensated equally.


The managers threatened to withhold salary increases if the workers refused to renegotiate their salaries and further threatened to nullify all the collective agreements.


“Under Namibia’s Labour Act it is stated as an unfair labour practice to unilaterally alter any term or condition of employment. But the new owners insisted on changing MUN’s recognition agreement with the Rössing Uranium Mine, which has been in place for 33 years. When we protested against the company’s intentions they accused us of leaking information to the media and subsequently fired the entire committee,” Hamutenya said.


He said that CNNC RUL then lobbied the national leaders of the mineworkers union to “discipline” the Rössing branch.


The dispute eventually came to a head in August 2020 when the committee told their lawyers that four managers were in breach f Namibia’s Immigration Act, which led to the arrest of four senior managers at the mine.


The committee leaders insist that their unfair dismissal have destroyed their lives and that of their dependants.


“We had the best medical aid in Namibia and now we cannot afford it. My water and electricity bills are in arrears. I cancelled my life insurance policy. We asked our union head office to pay us an allowance because we were fired for doing union work but they refused. They are only covering our legal bills,” Hamutenya said.


The management of CNNC RUL is on record saying that the matter is sub-judice and that the mine management is therefore not willing to comment on the issue until the arbitration process is completed.


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