Namibia: Karibib Marble Mine Employees Face Retrenchment

NINETY-FIVE employees of Karibib-based marble mining company Best Cheer Investment Namibia have until 14 August to counter the company's proposed retrenchment plan.

The employees have been on strike from 12 April until 9 June after wage negotiations failed.

On 9 July the company notified the 95 employees from the Karibib quarries of its retrenchment intentions.

George Ampweya, the Erongo region's coordinator of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), on Monday said they have learnt that the employees were sent home after the strike ended under the pretext of a Covid-19 case.

"This comes after the conclusion of an eight-week-long industrial action. The employees were immediately sent home by management on sick leave as an apparent consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic," he said.

Ampweya promised that the union would ensure due diligence is exercised in the proposed retrenchments of its members.

The Namibian has seen the list of employees who face retrenchment.

It consists mainly of MUN members who participated in the strike, and includes supervisor Petrus Tuhafeni.

In a letter sent to the MUN, also seen by The Namibian, the company explained that the retrenchments are part of an urgent restructuring of its quarries to ensure long-term sustainability.

"Although our intended Section 34 process comes at the back of prolonged industrial action by employees likely to be affected, we can assure you the process is by no means retaliatory or vengeful in nature," the company's human resources manager, Lovina Plato, said in the letter.

Throughout the wage negotiation process, the company has repeatedly blamed its financial status on the economic challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic globally.

Plato said the company continues to experience a major reduction in demand for its products.

"This is brought about by several factors, but mainly due to major increases internationally in the cost of shipping. Given the distance from our market, this renders our product pricing uncompetitive," she said.

According to Plato, the increases in tariffs by a number of countries on goods procured from Chinese-owned companies, as well as the global reduction in demand have affected the disposable income of clients in key markets.

The company and employee representative Stephanus Kameho have since had several meetings during which they failed to reach an agreement.

Kameho blames the company for not being truthful in their negotiations.

"Yesterday [Wednesday] they brought us a financial statement, which is not a true reflection of what is happening on the ground. We also picked up that they are recruiting people at the factories at Karibib and Walvis Bay. They cannot tell us that the quarry is bankrupt and the factories are doing well," he says.

The employees further claim only Namibian employees are targeted for retrenchment, excluding the 40 Chinese nationals who also work at the quarries.

The Chinese nationals are said to have been brought in to work as advisers, but instead are working as drivers, welders, electricians, mechanics, and supervisors.

According to the employees, these expatriates are working in isolation without understudies.

Plato could yesterday not be reached for comment.

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