Rosh Pinah Strike Reaches Stalemate

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The strike by over 330 workers at the Rosh Pinah mine is no closer to resolution after a meeting between the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) and management failed to take place. The meeting was scheduled for 11h00 yesterday but was cancelled after management refused to meet a demand by MUN to stop using scab labour to do the work of striking workers. MUN officials report that a shift boss was using a Caterpillar to load ore for transportation to Aus on a truck, while two foremen were seen operating a conveyor belt. Employees from Namibia Electrical Contractors and Arandis Services are also alleged to be among those doing irregular work. Chairperson of the MUN branch at Rosh Pinah, Petrus Amakali, says this is in direct contravention of a recent instruction from the office of the Labour Commissioner. He said the instruction from the Labour Commissioner clearly states that replacement workers cannot be employed to do the jobs of legally striking workers. “We could not negotiate with management because they are negotiating in bad faith. We have told them we will only negotiate if they remove the contractors. “We are trying to do things within the framework of the law, but they are doing it otherwise,” Amakali said. The strike started at 13h00 on Sunday after the two parties reached a deadlock in negotiations over a wage increment. MUN is negotiating a 14% increase for employees on the grades seven and eight scale, 13% for workers on grade five and six and 12% for those on grades four and 4.1. Rosh Pinah is however only offering an eight percent increase for grades four and 4.1, while the maximum they are offering for grades six, seven and eight is nine percent. The union entered into negotiations with the company on 3 July, but is accusing Rosh Pinah mine of deliberate delaying tactics. According to the union, the annual wage increment should already have been finalised and implemented on 1 July. The strike was declared after secret ballots on 26 and 27 October, in which 95% of members in the bargaining unit voted for strike action. MUN says it then decided to follow the proper dispute procedure in terms of Section 79 of the Namibian Labour Act, giving the company 48 hours’ notice of its intention to strike. The company initially responded with a letter threatening workers that if they did not work, there would be no pay, and they would lose their annual bonuses if they went on strike. Amakali described the letter as an insult to workers’ intelligence and amounting to intimidation. A second slightly more conciliatory letter followed, wherein the company asked workers to withhold strike action until today’s meeting could be held, but which was cancelled. He warned that workers would persist with the strike until their demands were met. “If something is worth living for it is worth dying for, and there can be no gain without pain,” he said. MUN members at Rosh Pinah apparently feel they are entitled to an increase after having made sacrifices in the past. Three years ago, according to Amakali, workers were denied an increase because the company still owed South African parent company Kumba Resources N$100 million, which first had to be paid back with interest. In 2004 they got a 10% increment at a time when the zinc price was US$760 a tonne and annual production was 75 000 tonnes. He said the current zinc price is US$3 999 a tonne and annual production has shot up to between 130 000 and 140 000 tonnes without any additional capital injection from the company. “The loan from Kumba Resources was paid back with interest at the end of 2005. The mine is producing very well and the zinc price is very good. “Zinc prices will not go down because of high demand for zinc, particularly from China, so workers feel they deserve an increment,” Amakali said. Rosh Pinah Human Resources Manager Kondja Kaulinge said he could not comment, other than to say the strike continued. He referred journalists to Trevor Arran, Kumba Resources General Manager for Corporate Affairs and Investor Relations, in Pretoria, South Africa. Late yesterday afternoon, Arran issued a statement only confirming the company is offering a 9% increase for lower grades, and an 8% across-the-board increase for other grades. “Kumba believes that its offer is fair and reasonable and is continuing discussions with the union to reach a mutually acceptable agreement,” the statement said.