Skorpion Zinc – A Game of Ping Pong

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By Desie Heita
Windhoek
If the current negotiations between the Mineworkers Union of Namibia and Skorpion Zinc were a chess game, then Skorpion Zinc would be on the verge of clinching the chess masters title.

On Monday afternoon, the mine management manoeuvred a move that dealt a double blow to the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) industrial strike leaving the union with only one option – to call off the strike.

“It appears our strike was for nothing. Now I have to go and convince workers to return to work with empty hands. I have a big responsibility on my shoulders,” branch chairman for MUN in the south, Michaeleno Kadhikwa said Monday evening.

MUN had resorted to an industrial strike after weeks of marathon sessions of negotiations and subsequent legal consultation, to reach consensus on wages and salary increments with Skorpion Zinc.

It was a well-calculated manoeuvre, or so the MUN felt at that time. After all a dip in production volumes and reduced bottom lines, tend to change perspective of management during salary and wage negotiations. To administer sufficient pressure, yet with minimal effect on the overall production, the union agreed to commence with the strike on Friday midnight, and to allow only administrators and certain engineering workers to work during the strike. There were to be no casuals or any other contractors working during the strike.

Unbeknown to the union bosses, however, is that somewhere in the thick books of the law is a legal hurdle regarding the hiring of subcontractors during a strike. It was a legal block, which the union itself had set precedence in a previous case almost 16 years ago.

Building up to the move by the mine started on Saturday morning barely hours after the workers staged the strike. On his way to the boardroom for negotiations, Kadhikwa, together with fellow negotiators learnt of the presence of subcontractors at the mine. The union led a cleaning up operation in the entire mine, removing 70 subcontractors.

This added to the zest of the strike – the issue of salary and wage increment – being set aside with the mine insisting that it be discussed only after resolving the issue of sub-contractors.

After poring over legal fine prints and documents, company lawyers, in agreement with union lawyers, concluded that the union could not prevent subcontractors from working during the strike.

The lawyers referred to a case of 1994 involving the MUN and a different company in which it was ruled that a company could indeed hire subcontractors to keep production going during a strike.

“It seems this ruling overrides the provisions made in the Labour Act, or so the lawyers have advised us. This issue of subcontractors is of very (serious) concern to us,” said Kadhikwa.

MUN was left with one option: allow subcontractors to work or suspend the strike and go back to work. Either way the strike will be useless, as production will continue as normal. “What will be the use of our strike if there are contracted people doing our job. The purpose of the strike, as clearly indicated in the Labour Act, is to withhold work and exert some pressure on the employers. These subcontractors have sufficient manpower to make up for the employees participating in the strike,” said Kadhikwa.

The mine also pulled a second snake on the union by demanding that the MUN withdraw the court case it has against the mine over the payment of overtime in return for a better increment percentage than the 10 percent being offered by the mine.

MUN said they met with workers on Monday night yet not much has been resolved. The two parties were still in negotiations by yesterday afternoon.

MUN is asking for 15 percent increase, which it later trimmed down to 14 percent, overtime payments and other improved benefits. Skorpion Zinc is offering 10 percent across the board. The offer from the mine, of 10 percent, is lower than its original offer of 12 percent increase to basic salary, N$1??????’??

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