By Desie Heita
The management at Otjihase Copper Mine was apparently on strike last Friday when, as usual, workers reported for work in the morning and found all offices closed.
The underground shift, which usually starts at 07h00, only started around 11h00. Mine safety rules dictate that workers only go underground in the company of shift supervisors.
However, the managing director of Weatherly Mining, Hans Nolte, said the management stay-away was a cautionary measure as they had heard of planned management kidnapping and hostage taking by workers on that day.
“We heard some rumours of taking management hostage and I told the management to stay away, while I sought clarity on the matter. It was simply to avoid any possible violence or anything,” said Nolte, adding that the mine did lose some production time during that period.
On the other hand, the branch committee of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia at the mine said the stay-away was a clear indication that management was forcing them into a strike, a route the workers have no intention of taking.
The two parties reached an impasse on salary notches that the workers feel the mine implemented without consultation.
Nolte said workers went on a short strike on Monday last week but went back to work on Tuesday when they were informed that the strike was illegal.
The workers, who were visited by New Era on Friday, said they neither went on a strike nor were they contemplating on undertaking one.
“This should be clear: we are not in favour of any industrial strike. Why should we strike when all what we want is clarification [on salary notches],” workers said on Friday shortly before they commenced their underground mining shift.
Nevertheless, Nolte said they have not received any formal complaint from the workers.
“The union has not given us a formal complaint as to why they hinted on a strike,” said Nolte. He did, however, acknowledge that workers are unhappy about the salary notching that Weatherly Mining implemented at the end of June. “[Workers] were not happy with the implemented salary notches and demanded to see the managing director. However, we said we are not prepared to see all the workers but rather discuss the issue through the union representatives,” said Nolte.
The union said it has written to the management on several occasions requesting an audience to discuss the salary notches, to which the management has apparently not responded favourably. Workers feel the newly implemented salary notches do not take into account the years and experience spent at Otjihase Mine when the mine was still owned by Ongopolo Mine, a company that Weatherly Mining bought out three years ago.
Nolte said the management “is very happy to talk to the union and address the issue”.
“We are at a stage where [the management] can sit around the table with workers and discuss this,” Nolte said.