12 July 2012

Namibia: Lawyer Tackles 'Jungle Justice' At Rössing

LAWYER Richard Metcalfe has accused Rössing Uranium Limited of administering "jungle justice" after the uranium giant allegedly dismissed its engineering services manager unprocedurally.

Shambweka Henry Chikililwa, employed at the mine for over 30 years, was informed on June 2012 that he was fired - allegedly due to poor work performance.

Chikililwa had received a good performance rating three months earlier.

In a letter addressed to the Arandis mine's managing director, Chris Salisbury, Metcalfe wrote that Chikililwa was surprised and shocked to learn of his dismissal.

"We have consulted with our client and have perused the disciplinary policy of Rössing Uranium dated November 18 2008 and have discovered that unsatisfactory work performance is a schedule two offence. This is followed with disciplinary proceedings after having followed procedures for poor work performance."

Metcalfe charges that the maximum possible action would be to issue a written final warning.

All these procedures in its own disciplinary code appear to have been ignored, he said.

Bernard Morwe, who informed Chikililwa that he was dismissed, was guilty of "specious and fraudulent allegations" against the engineering services manager, the lawyer claimed.

He asked Salisbury to "personally intervene in this matter without it having to be referred to the Labour Commissioner in order to ensure that justice is done to our client. Mr Morwe's actions contravene every tenet of the labour law as well as your own disciplinary policy".

The lawyer referred to the action as "jungle justice which has no place in Namibia in 2012".

"Our client will remit a copy of this correspondence to the board of directors in London for their personal attention. We await your confirmation that this flouting of the laws of Namibia will not proceed."

All Jerome Mutumba, the mine's spokesperson, was prepared to say on Tuesday was: to confirm that Chikililwa was an employee of RUL. "Any employee-related matter enjoys the highest level of confidentiality in the company, therefore I am not at liberty to comment on the contents of the said letter," he said.

Late last month, Rio Tinto group chief executive Tom Albanese dropped a bombshell when he announced that employee costs across the group would be slashed by ten per cent, including at Rössing Uranium.

Many of the group's employees may lose their jobs within the next three months, The Namibian reported on June 29.

In the letter Albanese wrote to the group, he stated that support and service costs had escalated by 30 per cent in recent years "and were due to increase even more this year unless we took immediate action".

He announced in February already that no new support and service staff may be appointed and travel and consultancy costs should be cut.

Rössing spokesperson Mutumba said at the time that it was too early to say exactly what would happen at Rössing.

Asked whether there would be layoffs at the mine, he replied: "I cannot say that. Like others in the industry, Rio Tinto is facing the challenge of increasing costs. We are actively seeking ways to tackle this.

"This includes a programme of reductions in service and support costs across the global organisation, which have been rising sharply in recent times. We cannot do this effectively without reducing employee costs."

About a connection between a recent break-in at his house and the imminent retrenchments, Salisbury on Tuesday said: "This is not a Rössing matter, but a personal one. I categorically reject any linkage between the break-in and any Rössing business."

According to a senior Police officer at the town, an unknown number of suspects broke into the Salisbury home between 21h30 on June 6 and 01h30 on June 7. The suspects fled with a silver watch and an iPhone.

By yesterday, there had been no arrests.

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