Windhoek-The future of employees at Skorpion Zinc Mine in the //Kharas Region remains uncertain as the mine management and the mineworkers union stand on the precipice regarding the future of the mine.
The Mineworkers Union of Namibia and the mine management have been locked in negotiations for several weeks over what to do with the employees at the mine that could either close down operations, or engage in exploration activities to determine whether mining operations could be extended for a few years.
The inability to extend the mine lifespan beyond 2017 would result in the retrenchment of all 1,500 mine employees, general manager Irvine Simataa told employees in a special message on Monday.
Vedanta Zinc International, which in 2010 bought the mine from Anglo Zinc, has roped in mining operator Basil Read Namibia to investigate whether the mine’s lifespan can been extended beyond 2017 by expanding one of the mining pits that appears to have deposits sufficient for further mining.
Bringing in Basil Read Namibia meant that the roles of about 278 employees at Skorpion were declared redundant.
In his message to employees, Simataa said the technical viability of the expansion of the mine is time-bound, which means that operations must begin immediately.
“If they do not, the project may not be viable,” Simataa emphasised in his appeal for cooperation from employees.
Basil Read Namibia was contracted because it possesses the required “specialist expertise and the urgently required bigger fleet of millions of dollars worth of heavy mining equipment,” Simataa told the mineworkers.
Skorpion Zinc is currently engaged with the union on how best to retrench the affected employees. In their latest engagement, which took place on March 16, the union proposed that there be voluntary separation packages, valued at N$300,000 but negotiable, and an early retirement plan for employees aged 50 years and above.
According to the brief that MUN’s Skorpion branch chairperson Petersen Kambinda sent to Ministry of Labour permanent secretary Bro Mathew Shingundja, the union had also proposed that Vedanta Zinc International consider selling or closing the mine, amid other proposals that include forming a partnership between the contractor and the union.
The mine proposed that those who want to accept the retrenchment packages should do so and that those who wish to join Basil Read as employees are also free to do so.
However, the mine management also made clear that it would suspend the contract of employees who do not want to accept the voluntary retirement offer or join Basil Read “for a period of two years without pay”. Such employees would only be considered if vacant positions appear in mining or refinery operations in that period.
They also made it clear that of the 278 employees facing retrenchment, 22 are expected to fill vacancies in the plant and other areas of the business, provided they have the requisite skills.
This, Simataa said, is part of the “retrenchment minimisation process”.
Those to be retrenched would “receive favourable retrenchment packages, well above the minimum required by legislation, and they will be given preference for employment by Basil Read Namibia.”
According to Simataa, Basil Read Namibia would be “engaging over 450 employees for their operations at Skorpion Zinc over the next three years and there is the potential for these mining employees [to be employed] beyond three years, as Basil Read is a significant and thriving company”.
“These jobs are reserved for Namibians and preference will be given to former Skorpion employees,” he said.
The deadline to finalise the retrenchment process has been extended to March 30, as per the agreement between the government, the union and Skorpion Zinc.