Australian listed mining company, Discovery Metals Limited (DML), has locked out 422 workers and abandoned its Boseto Copper Mine, using help from the Botswana police force.
Workers were ordered to stop working during the night shift at about 2.30 am on 27 February and told to move all equipment to the surface halfway. They were then assembled together with all other workers at the mine and told by DML's Chief Executive Officer, Bob Fulker, in the presence of members of the Botswana police force, that management had no authority at the mine any longer and that they must leave the mine premises, including company accommodation, immediately. Workers were not allowed to ask questions, forced onto buses by the police and abandoned in Maun, a town 90 km away.
Workers had been under threat of dismissal because the company said it was unable to sustain its operation on surface mining alone and needed to develop an underground mine to make exploitation of the copper reserve viable. However, on 9 February the company announced that it had secured an investor for the proposed developments and the necessary finance to end its current troubles.
Then unexpectedly at the end of February, on the explanation of being unable to negotiate credit extensions, the company opted for voluntary administration and claimed it had no more responsibility for workers at its flagship mine in Botswana.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Bostwana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) was not informed of this decision by management prior to the lockout. When BMWU officials arrived at the mine they were initially refused entry onto the premises by police and then denied access to workers by management. Three hours later management reluctantly allowed the officials to speak to the remaining workers about to board the last two buses.
This brief meeting was interrupted by Fulker and the police. BMWU President Jack Tlhagale reports, “When Mr Fulker ended and left, the Police Commander stepped in accompanied by another officer not in uniform to tell us that he had ‘finished talking’ and would like everybody out of the company premises without further delay.”
“DML Boseto mine operates in Botswana and should be subject to Botswana laws which it has side lined completely,” says Tlhagale. “Currently, the company has violated Botswana laws and based everything on Australian law and the Botswana Police were there to enforce this flagrant disregard and violation of our laws in broad daylight.”
“The behaviour of Australian company DML is unacceptable, leaving workers stranded and BMWU to grapple with how to pursue recourse. Even more shocking is the manipulation of state forces by DML to violate worker and trade union rights,” says Jyrki Raina, General Secretary of IndustriALL. “We have appealed to our Australian affiliates for solidarity support and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union has agreed to represent the interests of workers with the administrators. “