Recently, two players in the mining landscape closed shop, throwing more than 1, 100 permanent, contract and temporary workers onto the streets.
In one particular case, the manner in which workers were informed of the closure can only be described as egregious. According to unionists, workers were briefly addressed at 2am, and ordered to pack their belongings, before being bussed out of the mine under the gaze of armed police.
In February 2012, 143 workers were axed at BK 11 diamond mine after proprietor, Firestone Diamond, cited market weaknesses, while retrenchments, suspensions and other industrial actions continually stalk the precarious mining sector.
In all instances, workers have been left holding the short end of the stick when new mining ventures have lost momentum and re-evaluated their viability.
Citing global recession-related stress in the last six years, young mines such as Mowana, Lerala and BK11 have either suspended operations or closed indefinitely leaving hundreds of workers in the lurch.
Workers at established mines such as Debswana’s operations, BCL Mine, Tati Nickel and others have had the benefit of long recognised retrenchment and/or separation formula and agreements.
With their management, more experienced in weathering financial storms, these workers have even been offered counselling and outsourcing opportunities as a way of ameliorating the shock and impact of joblessness.
It is unbelievable that while this country’s legislators have woven a watertight network of laws to ensure that investors manage the environmental and social impact of mining before commissioning, no document exists compelling them to safeguard the country’s most important resource – Batswana.
According to the mosaic of laws, for an explorer to transform into a producer, they would need to prove a mineral resource, financial and technical prowess, social and environmental mitigations and decommissioning/rehabilitation strategies.
Legislatively speaking, the developer is not required to enter into a union recognition agreement and many would, by their profit-driven nature, hold out as long as possible.
This scenario is yet another example of labour issues being treated like the illegitimate children in the tripartite social contract.
Workers, particularly those who have just joined a young mine, cannot automatically gel and form a workplace association or look to their employers for relief in industrial matters.
Government representatives, such as district labour officers, should also not be expected to enforce non-existing laws to protect these new workers.
The buck rightfully stops with the legislators charged with enacting and amending labour laws.
“Labour is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labour, and could never have existed if labour had not first existed. Labour is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”
- Abraham Lincoln