Following a spate of job losses around the country, Mmegi Correspondent LERATO MALEKE picks the brains of Members of Parliament on possible solutions to the calamity
More than a thousand workers in the mining industry have lost their jobs this year, as companies wrestle against the vicissitudes of the market economics in the sector.
Early in February, Teemane Manufacturing Company – a 20-year-old landmark in Serowe – closed shop citing market pressures, retrenching 320 Batswana and 64 expatriates.
Nearly 800 more temporary and contract workers would lose their jobs a month later at Discovery Metals’ Boseto Mine, where unionists claim managers hired buses and shipped workers out in the dead of night. With little statutory safety nets for the affected workers, even for those who are unionised, the spotlight is on what legislators will do about the problem.
Nonofo Molefhi (Selebi Phikwe East, Infrastructure and Technology minister): “Government must first find out the capacity of the investor and the investor should also open up the company for sale since they have shown that they have a limited capacity.
“They should open up and invite other companies to boost what they have. The issue of saving jobs is difficult because, like what happened in Tswapong (the former Lerala Mine) government lost its 15 percent stake and did not get returns. Imagine we are talking about private investors from outside.”
Phenyo Butale (Gaborone Central): “Government should first establish what went wrong and also come up with robust interventions. Government should also come up with a clear and proper policy to monitor these mining companies because it is clear that there are gaps in the existing policies.
“A clear policy would also determine whether an investor is the right one and not someone coming here to make a quick profit and dump us. Government shouldn’t just get too excited when seeing investors, but should rather come up with a policy that foresees the challenges and can put mitigating measures in place. “Investors’ backgrounds must also be checked.”
Sadique Kebonang (Lobatse, Assistant Trade and Industry Minister): “Mining companies should report their financial position to government at least every six months. From there government or the relevant minister will be able to tell what is going on.”
Isaac Davids (Mochudi East): “Government should have a share and put money in these mines to ensure that jobs are protected.
“It should also make it a point that it brings its own people as part of management to run these companies because for now it seems the responsible minister is in the dark and doesn’t totally know what is happening.
“Government should move fast. The sooner the better so that people’s jobs can be saved.”
A word from the unions
Jack Tlhagale (President Botswana Mine Workers Union): “The closure of the mines is a concern and loss of employment will have a negative impact on people’s lives. Those affected now have to look for alternatives and find jobs, which is not an easy task. Further, the country’s economy is affected, as tax revenue contributed by the mines is gone.
“Government and the mining companies should sit together on boards to understand workers’ issues from the onset. These mines are closed because companies claim that there is no money, while government on the other hand professes ignorance.
“There should be rapport between government and those operating companies. Government should focus on the sustainability of these mining companies.”
The Botswana Congress Party (BCP) is scheduled to petition Members of Parliament soon on the job losses in Parliament. In a press release, the party said Boseto’s closure was “a common practice” in the mining industry in Botswana, “where employers exploit loopholes in the legislative framework to recklessly infringe on the basic rights of workers”.
Government through the Ministry of Trade has created an industrial environment that lacks a legislative framework to enforce regulation of the employment practices of companies, the party says.
“A weak legislative framework creates weak regulatory institutions and these have therefore become bystanders as the brazenly exploitative practices of companies in the mining sector become the norm.”
Mine workers are looking for rescue from the Mineral Development Company Botswana, which will house all government’s shareholding in local and international mining. The company is presently recruiting staff and is expected to launch soon.