Mine Accused of Negotiating ‘Unfairly’

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By Desie Heita

Windhoek

The strike at Skorpion Zinc mine remains in place with protracted negotiations between the Mineworkers Union of Namibia and mine management continuing throughout the weekend without any positive results.

Each side is refusing to budge and, on Sunday afternoon, the union accused Skorpion Zinc of negotiating in bad faith. “We are still in negotiations, but the mine [management] continues to ignore our demands. In effect they are not negotiating in fairness,” said Andries Eiseb, the Deputy Chairman of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) branch in the south.

The union is asking for a 15 percent increase in wages and salaries. Skorpion Zinc is prepared to offer only an increase of 10 percent across the board, after initially offering an increase of 12 percent.

Skorpion first offered a sweetened deal – meant to avert the possible strike – of 12 percent increase to basic salary, N$1 750 in housing allowance, and a one-off cash payment of N$1 000. This was to be backdated to March 1. Yet, the union refused.

The mine had made it clear to the union, before the strike, that refusal of the sweetened offer – and should the union proceed with the strike – “there would no longer be the need to offer the amended improvement in benefits”.

“Should the union continue to reject the company’s position and commence with strike action the company will revert to an offer of 10 percent in basic salary only,” management informed workers in brief on May 2.

Skorpion said the rationale behind the sweetened offer of 12 percent and other benefits was to focus on increasing disposable income during the inflationary period.

The spokesperson for Skorpion Zinc, Usi //Hoebeb, reiterated the mine’s position that it is doing all possible to resolve the dispute.

The mine has applied the “no work, no pay” principle with workers losing money for the hours during the strike.

Situated 25km north of Rosh Pinah in southern Namibia, Skorpion Zinc produces 150 000 tonnes of special high grade (SHG) zinc per annum.

Simmering at the bottom of the wage and salary increments are the past issues of salary structures and affirmative action, which further frustrate workers.

MUN maintained that Skorpion Zinc failed to implement a salary structure, with black workers paid the same salary across the board. The union also said the mine’s Affirmative Action Report has not been approved for the past five years because the understudy development is not in place.

MUN has been fighting to resolve a host of issues with the mine management since October 2007. Eiseb said the frustrations have left workers with no other option but to ensure that their voices are heard and their demands are met.

Skorpion Zinc mine has been locked in negotiations with the Mineworkers Union of Namibia over wages and salary increments since April 21.

Negotiators for the mine management and the union failed to reach consensus on their own and went to a conciliation board on April 29 and 30.

Arbitration by the Namibian Labour Commissioner failed, leading to the members of Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) calling for a strike. MUN members make up nearly three-quarters of Skorpion Zinc’s 650-strong workforce. Anglo Base Metal owns the Skorpion Zinc mine.

Last week Wednesday, the two parties held a meeting in Windhoek to solicit legal advice on the best route to take. In the brief to workers the mine management said: “We regret to advise workers that management and the MUN have failed to reach an agreement in substantive negotiations during an extended consultation and conciliation board meeting in Windhoek on Wednesday 30 April.”

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