Govt helps save jobs at Skorpion Zinc

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WINDHOEK, 31 March 2017 - Skorpion Zinc General Manager, Irvinne Simataa together with the Chairperson of the Mine Workers Union Branch Executive Committee, Petersen Kambinda signing the agreement to minimise the the impacts of the retrenchment. (Photo by: Petrus Muronga) NAMPA

Desie Heita

Windhoek-Government mediation efforts have helped the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) and Skorpion Zinc, which is owned by Vedanta Zinc International, to reach a compromise on job cuts planned by the mine.

The number of retrenchments has been drastically reduced from 278 employees originally targeted to exit the company to 43. The new agreement was reached after the mediation and intervention of the ministries of labour, as well mines and energy. According to the new agreement, signed on March 31, the Vedanta Zinc International mine in //Kharas Region, would now only retrench 43 workers, while a further 192 employees are to be seconded to Basil Read.

Vedanta Zinc International has contracted Basil Read to work on one of the pits deemed to have commercial zinc reserves worth mining for the next three years. A further 22 employees are to be absorbed by Skorpion Zinc “in current existing vacancies, within the structure of the company”.

“The parties recognise the need to maintain the current salaries and benefits of all employees, who could have been retrenched and [who will be] joining the services of Basil Read, following the outsourcing of mining operations to enable the extension of the life of mine for another three years,” read the agreement in part.

The agreement also stipulates that the 192 workers, who have skills required by Basil Read, would remain on Skorpion Zinc’s payroll for the next three years that Basil Read is working on the project.

Vedanta Zinc initially wanted to retrench 278 employees and offered them opportunity to apply for jobs with Basil Read on its work to extend the mine’s lifespan. The retrenchment plans, however, resulted in a deadlock between Skorpion Mine management and the MUN.

Instead of retrenching the workers, Skorpion Zinc has now agreed to second the employees to Basil Read, on condition that they remain employees of Skorpion Zinc for the entire period of the project by Basil Read to extend the mine lifespan.

The employees, many of whom are production operators, mechanics and electricians, would work under the supervision of Basil Read. Yet, Basil Read would have no right to take disciplinary action, as such procedures would still be vested with Skorpion Zinc.

All retrenched employees would be given first consideration for employment should any of the employees seconded to Basil Read, or those being absorbed within the company, go into retirement or chose to accept voluntary retirement.

“The pool of retrenched employees shall be maintained for a maximum period of 18 months, effective 1 April 2017,” said the agreement between the MUN and Skorpion Zinc. The agreement further states that there would be no increase for all employees in the bargaining unit during the current financial year and stipulates: “zero increase will be with effect from 01 April 2017.”

An inflationary adjustment would, however, be given as an annual average in the next financial year.

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 extending one of the mining pits that appears to have deposits sufficient for mining.

The inability to extend the mine lifespan beyond 2017 would result in the retrenchment of all 1,500 employees at the mine, general manager Irvine Simataa told employees in a message a fortnight ago.

Basil Read Namibia was contracted because it possesses the required “specialist expertise and the urgently required bigger fleet of millions of dollar worth of heavy mining equipment,” Simataa said at the time.

The MUN has since day one of the announcements opposed the proposed mass retrenchment, accusing the company of looking for cheap labour, saying that outsourcing will mean workers who opt to work for Basil Read would lose certain benefits, such as medical aid.

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