Production ground to a halt this week at Masama Coal Mine, the country’s newest mine, after workers of the mining contractor, Jarcon, downed tools in pay dispute, BusinessWeek has established.
Owned by Minergy Limited, Masama is ramping up to full operations with a target of 80,000 tonnes of saleable coal per month starting from next month. Minergy has already extracted roughly 39,000 tonnes of coal to date and in excess of 340,000 tonnes are exposed in the pit.
However, operations came to a standstill this week when some Jarcon employees called a strike. Jarcon is a joint venture between IPP, a South African company and Giant Plant, a Botswana company. The joint venture won the mining contract last September.
On Monday, disgruntled workers could be seen milling outside the mine entrance, debating the next steps to take in their dispute with the employer.
“Some of us were working for Giant Plant earning P19 per hour and when we went under the joint venture our rate was reduced to P17,” one worker told BusinessWeek.
“They said it would be increased in June once production started.
“We were surprised that on Friday, they paid us the P19 rate again. Another employee said workers had requested that the rate be increased to at least P40. The workers also requested a housing allowance of P2,000 up from P450, 80% medical aid and improved allowances amongst other things.
“We were disappointed when they now presented just the P19 we used to earn. These people do not take us seriously and we will not continue to work as if everything is okay,” the employee said.
Jarcon’s management has apparently taken a tough line against the striking workers. An internal memo seen by BusinessWeek and apparently authored by general manager, Dominic Doherty, gave workers an ultimatum to return to work.
“All staff currently engaged in unlawful industrial action are hereby given an ultimatum that they must return to work no later than 1200hrs on Monday 19
The workers were, however, not moved and spent the rest of the day under trees. The general manager declined to speak to BusinessWeek saying an appointment had to be made first.
On Wednesday, BusinessWeek was informed that representatives of the workers and management had agreed to hammer out their grievances before the labour office in Molepolole. Chairperson of Shift Representatives, a workers’ group at the mine, Jonathan Rankata said they had been advised that Jarcon would be within its rights to fire the strikers. “We were advised to apply for permission to strike. We will however be going back to negotiate with the employer while we wait for Labour to give us more feedback on our issue after studying our contracts,” he said.
Minergy executives confirmed the industrial dispute and said it has had minimal impact on operations at Masama.
“Minergy is aware that there was a dispute, which has been successfully resolved and production at the mine continues,” Minergy CEO, Morné du Plessis said in a written response to enquiries. “Minergy is satisfied that our sub-contractor Jarcon is handling the dispute in the correct manner and the proper channels for dispute resolution are being followed.
“Production at the mines has not been significantly disrupted.” Minergy’s Masama Coal Mine, currently finalising construction at a cost of P300 million, is Botswana’s second colliery and the first open cast coal mine in the country.
It is being developed 50 kilometres northwest of Gaborone and plans to ramp up production to about 100,000 tonnes per month by next year, targeting mostly South Africa, which is facing a coal deficit.