Tsumeb — A last stake of employees at B&E International Namibia North, a company contracted by Weatherly Mining, who were producing copper at the Tschudi Mine, downed tools this week following a severance pay dispute.
About 130 B&E contract employees were headed for urgent voluntary resignation after failed negotiations of a severance package as their employment contracts were scheduled to be terminated by end of July. The employees were informed last month that their employment will come to an end; hence, they would not receive any exit package, with the company citing lack of funds. However, as an alternative through negotiations, B&E offered N$1 000 as a bonus to each affected employee. This amount was, however, vehemently rejected by employees, thus prompting the mass resignations.
The employees stated it is better to go early than continue working for no benefit. Initially, according to employment contracts seen by this reporter, the contracts were supposed to end as of December 2020.
The ugly reality was preceded by job loses of over 400 miners employed by Basil Read Mining Namibia, which was responsible for mining copper ore but ceased operations in February 2020. The company was subcontracted by Weatherly Mining.
Employees speculated that the situation unfolded as the parent company, namely Weatherly, was no longer in a stable position to honour its financial obligation. Weatherly is in a financial storm, as its financer, Orion, hit the brakes due to an escalated US$140 million (N$2 billion) debt owed to it.
Weatherly's fortunes took an unfortunate twist and started facing a stuttering financial dilemma after a water ingress at the mine in 2018 that slowed copper production due to flooded pits.
"We have financial obligations to tackle; how can they just let us go empty-handed, apart from leave pay and pension. This is totally unfair and uncalled for. Our contracts were supposed to end in December, so this was not our call to stop work in July. We decided to resign because it was pointless either way after having exhausted all possible avenues to negotiate for a severance pay," fumed a member of the now unemployed miners.
The termination letter addressed to employees from Human Resource Officer Silver Kallinka states that the contract of employment (B&E) is directly linked to the commercial contract (Weatherly Mining; thus, the premature termination of contracts would be effected per each individual.
"We hereby wish to inform you that Weatherly has given the company notice that our commercial contract will come to an end on 31 July 2020 due to mining operations that have stopped - and subsequently, the stock that is being depleted. Production will end on or about 15 July, after which we will utilise all employees in other areas such as plant cleaning and maintenance until exit medicals can be done," reads the letter dated June 15.
"Our former colleagues who ceased operations under the same company that was subcontracted by Namdeb were paid severance packages, so why not us? Where and how are we different?" reasoned employees.
Meanwhile, Kallinka defended the decision to offer no termination severance package, citing that the company is not legally obliged to do so. She was, however, quick to add that the company offered a relief package that employees rejected. She could not reveal the amount, neither could she confirm if it was indeed N$1 000 as alluded to by the workers.
"So, B&E Namibia and B&E North are two different companies, though we originate from one mother organisation in South Africa. Therefore, we were here operating under different terms, so if the others were given severance packages, that was based on their contractual obligations. Our contracts were directly linked to that of the commercial contract that if prematurely terminated, it would also happen to workers. So, in our employment contracts, we had no such provision of severance pay," reiterated Kallinka in her responses to New Era.