Production at the Rosh Pinah Zinc Corporation’s mine came to a standstill yesterday after workers refused to work, saying they are fed up with the management’s failure to address their concerns.
The mine is owned by the Anglo-Swiss multinational commodity trading and mining company, Glencore.
About 320 workers at the mine on Wednesday around 20h00 locked the entrance to the mining area, with big rocks placed on the road leading to the entrance, while heavy-duty vehicles used in the underground mine were parked at the gate, blocking any vehicles from entering the site.
The workers say the management have continuously and deliberately refused to listen to them and address their issues of concern, which has left them with no option but to withhold their labour until their grievances are taken seriously.
Yesterday morning the gates were still locked and a meeting between the mine management and the Mine Workers Union (MUN) did not yield any positive results, while the workers continued to toyi-toyi at the main entrance, after the company’s efforts to have the police remove them by force allegedly failed.
During the short meeting, the chief operational officer Christo Horn issued the union representatives with a letter in response to their strike and called on them to return to work or face the consequences.
In the letter Horn indicated that the industrial action is illegal and unlawful, and serious misconduct, and informed workers to return to work by 15h00 yesterday, failure of which would result in necessary actions being taken.
“If employees do not return to their normal shift and working hours, they will face disciplinary action and their employment contracts might be terminated,” reads the letter seen by New Era.
Without an amicable solution from the first meeting, the workers were adamant they would not open the gate until their grievances are properly addressed.
Addressing the workers after the short meeting, MUN Rosh Pinah branch chairperson Allen Kalumbu said the workers will continue with their strike until a favourable solution is found, stressing that the issue is not whether the strike is legit or not, but rather how solutions to the problems affecting workers can be found.
“Whether it is legal or illegal our concerns and demands are genuine, so the issue of legality should not play a role here,” he stated.
He said workers have put their concerns on the table and it is now up to the management to respond to them, and not force the union to declare a dispute with the labour commission over something that can be solved internally.
The workers demand the removal of Andre Bergh, the engineering manager, and Angeline Hagen, the industrial relations specialist, whom they accuse of not respecting workers’ rights and Namibian laws.
Kalumbu told New Era that the workers are fed up with the “inhuman treatment” by the two managers, and demand that their contracts be terminated with immediate effect.
Kalumbu alleged that Bergh abuses workers and fires them at will, without following proper procedures as per the labour act.
“Nothing has been done, and now he has started firing people verbally without any disciplinary hearing or warning – some of these are as a result of simple scratches to heavy vehicles the workers operate,” he said.
He added that about 25 mine operators are on their final written warning, and a simple scratch to any heavy vehicle being operated by any of them will get them fired. This, he said, needs to come to an end, as employees are humans and can make errors especially with the dark working conditions underground.
He further said employees are unhappy over the way Hagen does her job, saying since she started many employees have been threatened and intimidated, while some have been charged unnecessarily.
While union and mine representatives were in another meeting late yesterday afternoon, workers sat around the entrance patiently waiting for some good news, but they say they will not stop if no agreement is reached.