Debswana dispute heads for showdown

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The uneasy relationship between certain senior managers at Debswana and Managing Director Blackie Marole seems to be headed for a showdown with none of the parties compromising from their hardline positions on the restructuring exercise meant to start at the company head office next month. The bone of contention centres around the application of fixed term contracts agreed with cadres at A-C bands across the board.

Senior managers, most of whom are at the E band did not take kindly to this proposition. They felt it was not fair to them to be subjected to an across the board retrenchment package which they allege was not negotiated with them. 

In a letter to management, the senior managers contend that the new fixed term contract will lead to loss of job security which they enjoyed in the permanent and pensionable contracts they had and as such they would want to be compensated for the loss.

The managers query the fact that the restructuring is only confined to Gaborone and not other Debswana units, like mines.

"This disadvantages competent employees who were moved to head office, some involuntarily. As part of restructuring at head office, some jobs might become vacant and in the event that they get filled by internal employees from the mines, the restricting of the restructuring to Gaborone will not give Gaborone employees an opportunity to fill the positions that will become vacant at the mines," the managers said in a letter to Debswana heads of departments and copied to Marole.

The managers added that redeployment should be considered, instead of outright retrenchments, so as to reduce the risk of skills loss in order to protect the organisation. Although the letter signed by seven senior managers was addressed to heads of department, Marole has responded to it saying the process of consultation between management and employees is on going and is not ended as implied.

"What needs to be appreciated is that current labour legislation only requires the payment of notice pay to redundant employees and not a retrenchment package. However, despite the lack of legal requirement to pay a retrenchment package, Debswana is offering a generous severance arrangement. Debswana has and will continue to be an employer, which is recognised for caring for its staff. To this end, the payment of a retrenchment package is an accepted principle and management have applied their minds to the principles governing the payment of such. In doing so, Debswana has considered market trends. In short management believes that the company's offer is both fair and generous," Marole said. He explained that restructuring is only confined to head office because mining centres have recorded good production years and are settled and focused. "The restriction of this exercise to head office is to avoid the disruptive effect that such an exercise would undoubtedly have on the mines and their out-put."

He refuted claims that the fixed contract principle is being implemented without consultation. "Management has to date only stated the principle. Many employees mistakenly link the concepts of permanent employment contract and guaranteed life-long employment. No contract within Debswana guarantees tenure of employment until retirement and can be terminated with the necessary notice period, in line with current labour legislation and company policy. But perhaps herein lies the essence of what needs to change in the future and why this change is proposed-for Debswana to be successful.

In the future, senior managers must be more oriented in mind and action to ensuring higher levels of performance and we believe fixed term contracts will encourage this rather than allowing for an on going acceptance of the status quo," Marole said.

Debswana has stated that it became imperative to engage in a restructuring exercise as the head count at head office had increased dramatically between 1999 and 2006. This means that it took more to control and most activities are centralised at head office including recalling some 34 positions from Johannesburg to help form the new Debswana Engineering Support Services. Management said that it has become important to reduce costs and benefits to the company. The restructuring will affect everyone in the organisation except the general manager.

The retrenchment deal which management is said to be currently negotiating with Botswana Mine Workers Union is one month total package for each completed year of service pro-rated for uncompleted year or P4,500 or whichever is greater. There is also an ex-gratia payment of three months remuneration or two months in lieu of notice. This is the package that management contends will be applied across the board.

Editor's Comment
A Call For Government To Save Jobs

The minister further shared that from the 320 businesses that notified the Commissioner of Labour about their plans to retrench, 20 were acceded to, which resulted in 204 workers being retrenched during April 2020 and July 2021.The retrenchments were carried out while the SoE was in place, meaning the companies that succeeded must have had solid reasons, despite the strict SOE regulations imposed on businesses to not retrench. We are left with...

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