FRANCISTOWN: The phrase "learning the hard way" may aptly describe the experience of employees of Mowana Copper Mine (MCM) following the latter’s failure to pay them on time.
In the aftermath of the mine’s failure to pay the workers’ September salaries in full and on time, over 200 employees joined the Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU) in an endeavour to foster good industrial relations with MCM.
The workers were not members of BMWU before the salaries conundrum.
An MCM worker told Mmegi that following the impasse between the employees and MCM over the payment issue, scores of workers joined BMWU to strengthen their bargaining power with their employer. Giving a brief history of how the workers became new members of BMWU, the worker said: “Last month we were paid only 30 percent of our salaries and were promised that the remaining amount will be paid in the beginning of October but our salaries remained unpaid only for the salaries to be paid on October 17 following negotiations between officials from BMWU and the mine’s head honchos”. The worker added that following the meeting, MCM made an undertaking that it would have finished paying the September salaries by the end of business on Wednesday which promise the mine duly honoured since workers’ salaries were paid later that day. “Before we joined the BMWU, it was difficult for us to negotiate our welfare issues with MCM even though MCM recognised people we chose as our representatives in negotiations with the mine’s management whenever there were issues of industrial relations that needed to be resolved,” said the worker. He added: “We are now happy that the MCM recognises BMWU as the union which is duly authorised to represent us”.
A BMWU official privy to the highly guarded negotiations between the mine and BMWU confirmed what the worker said.
The official said: “In the past few weeks, MCM workers were left in the lurch not knowing when their salaries will be credited in their accounts.
We are happy that their salaries have now being paid in full and we don’t expect what they experienced to happen again in future. We discussed a number of issues with the mine that were troubling our members and the mine promised us that they won’t happen again”.
The source added that BMWU and MCM signed a recognition agreement on Wednesday.
A recognition agreement provides a framework for industrial relations within an organisation. It sets out the rules and procedures to be used by the union and the employer in carrying out consultation, collective bargaining and representation, said the official.
The councillor for Dukwi Thatayaone Kehetile also confirmed having met the MCM’s general manager Dominic Doherty on Thursday at the mine. Kehetile said he was prompted
He also allayed fears that the mine will close again. The mine’s failure to pay salaries on time has being troubling the workers and they were not sure if the mine would continue operating in future since it was facing some financial constraints,” said an optimistic Kehetile.
According to a local publication, a memo dated October 5 from Doherty stated that salaries were supposed to be paid in tranches with the final one being at the end of October. The publication further stated that, “due to unforeseen breakdowns during the month of September, production at MCM was severely reduced and expenditure on repairing broken equipment was at unexpectedly high levels”.
“The result of the reduction in income from copper production and additional expenses has impacted on the company’s cash flows and consequently we regret that payment of September salaries was delayed. We understand the serious impact that delays in receiving salaries has on individuals and the difficulties that you and your families face as a result,” reads part of the memo. When contacted for comment, Doherty confirmed that they have signed a recognition agreement with BMWU.
He agreed that in the past few weeks, the mine was facing some challenges but they have since managed to overcome those challenges. Doherty also allayed fears that the mine will close instead stating that they want to double the mine’s production to 22,000 tonnes per year. “Things are challenging when you start a mine but with the hardworking staff that we have here things will be okay.
We want to increase our production to 22,000 tonnes per year. I am very optimistic about the future of this mine. The mine will not close contrary to people from some sections of society,” said an optimistic Doherty, adding that they have paid all their workers.