By John Ekongo
Both the Mine Workers Union of Namibia and LLD Diamonds have been playing what looks like a game of ping-pong amidst the labour unrest at the factory.
The labour unrest has seriously placed the future of more than 100 suspended workers in doubt.
With the two parties nowhere closer to finding a common ground despite three days of closed-session meetings, all that has been achieved appears to be a quandary of uncertainty, which raises more questions than answers.
What appears to be certain, however, is that the strike is illegal, and LLD Diamonds are halfway through instituting disciplinary proceedings against the workers.
A chain of correspondences in the period June 03 and 19, 2008 regarding meetings between LLD and MUN proved ineffective as both parties were unable to agree on matters sometimes as simple as agenda items.
On June 03, MUN crafted a letter calling for an urgent meeting. Points that would be discussed were the issue of appraisal, promotions, tariffs vs basic salary and outstanding overtime.
Two days later, LLD management responded, seeking clarity on points raised by MUN.
On top of that, LLD management also requested that two additional points be put on the agenda, namely, the non-adherence of the workers to procedures and terms as agreed upon in the procedural and recognition agreement, as well as the extensive use of MUN letterheads by the Branch Executive Committee (BEC).
MUN responded on June 10, reiterating their call for an urgent meeting with the same conditions, and LLD simply did the same, responding that they won’t be able to meet given their differences of opinions.
“I regret to advise you that since you have chosen not to respond to our request to confirm and provide clarity to the agenda items, it would not be possible for us to meet with you today.”
The LLD response further read, “It is our position that if we cannot agree on the agenda items, it would be practically impossible for us to hold a proper meeting in an orderly fashion.” It was signed by the Operations Director Clarky McKay.
On June 16, LLD then wrote a letter to Labour Commissioner Bro Matthew Shinguadja soliciting the intervention of the office of the Labour Commissioner to mediate between the two parties with the aim of perhaps averting the ongoing strike.
However, nothing concrete came out of that meeting. Since June 19, the workers have been camping in Windhoek’s Northern Industrial Area, a few hundred metres away from the company premises.
The management of LLD Diamond Namibia refused to move from their position of instituting disciplinary action against the 153 striking workers since Thursday, June 19.
Despite a series of meetings and pleas by the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN), the company has made up its mind and is more than set to lay charges against the employees for taking part in what it calls an “illegal industrial strike”.
The company suspended the 153 workers, citing “absenteeism without official leave”.
LLD placed adverts in the media informing the striking employees to obtain notices to attend disciplinary hearings set for today.
LLD stressed in a release that they would go ahead with disciplinary action against the striking employees.
On their part, MUN SG Bro Joseph Hengari maintained that the workers were suspended and as such could not be regarded as being on an “illegal strike”.
“We found no common ground,” said Hengari when approached for comment.
Hengari believes that it will be unwise for the company to institute disciplinary hearings against the workers, because of procedural channels that were not followed.
“We did not receive that communication,” said Hengari
It appears that differences of opinion occurred on whether the action by the workers is legal or not. LLD management is of the opinion that the actions of the employees are illegal and thus warrant disciplinary action.
LLD Namibia Managing Director Kombadayedu Kapwanga maintains that the strike is illegal and the company will forge ahead with disciplinary action against the workers.
On the other hand, Hengari queries that workers were suspended an hour after commencement of the strike on Thursday, June 19, which means the strike cannot be viewed as either legal or illegal.
Confronted with this predicament and to prove a point, LLD lifted the suspension on Monday this week, with a plea for workers to return to their posts. But the plea fell on deaf ears and LLD forged ahead with disciplinary proceedings.
“You cannot just lift a suspension and tell people to go back to work, with the same conditions as before. That is what got them there in the first place” said Hengari.
According to Hengari, this is the position that LLD is not able to entertain.
Also agreeing with this notion is Mathew Mtembi, Chairman of the BEC, the body that represents the workers at the company.
“Whether illegal or not, we are here because these people did not solve our problems and that remains our concern.
“We want feedback on our demands,” Mtembi said, referring to the 16-point agenda they initially gave to management a day before the commencement of the strike.
He stressed that they are not against returning to work, but will not go anywhere near their duty stations if the company does not solve their problems, amongst others better labour conditions, allowances and better salaries.
When asked why the workers refused the company offer to return to work, Mtembi cautioned that the company is well known for playing tricks with them.
“These people seem to know every tactic. If we went back to work, they will fire us all, that is why we are not even going to collect those notice letters,” revealed Mtembi.
However, the Office of the Labour Commissioner added weight to the position of the company. “By all purposes and intentions the strike is illegal,” said Labour Commissioner Bro Mathew Shinguadja.
The angry employees told New Era that they will boycott the disciplinary hearings too, and have threatened to disrupt the operations of the company, should the company fail to heed their demands.
The strike is said to be costing the company in the range of US$30 000 to US$50 00 a day.