More than six thousand mine workers in Botswana will lose their jobs on 31st October following the move to put state-owned mining company BCL Limited into voluntary liquidation, according to reports.
On 7 October, the government of Botswana announced that it was closing its largest copper and nickel producer BCL Limited with immediate effect. BCL Limited, which was put into provisional liquidation on 9 October, owns the BCL copper mine in Selebi Phikwe and the Tati Nickel Mine in Francistown.
IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU), says workers are gripped in shock and disbelief following revelation of the closures, which came without any warning.
Latest reports are that all the 5,500 workers at the BCL mine and 700 workers at Tati will have their contracts terminated at the end of the month. These do not include an estimated 1,000 contractor workers at BCL. Some miners will be reemployed by the liquidator to care for and maintain the mines until February 2017.
“The situation is extremely unfair on the workers. We have a retrenchment agreement but the liquidator does not want to fulfill it. He thinks it is not a contractual agreement for shareholders and only wants to pay the bare minimum. Since the liquidator was appointed we have been unable to meet with him,” said Jack Tlhagale, President of the BMWU. “We don’t believe there is a good reason to close the mines. These mines should be reopened.”
IndustriALL Global Union has written to the Vice President of Botswana, Mr Mokgweetsi Masisi, calling on the government to reverse its decision to shut down the mines and to engage with BMWU.
BMWU says government claims that it has been pumping money into BCL are untrue and the last time it injected cash into the BCL mine was in 2003. The union argues that BCL can be profitable if managed correctly, and that the government should also have made financial provisions for the normal fluctuations in commodity prices, which are expected to recover in 2018.
In the meantime the government has failed to terminate employees with any decency: “Workers need to be repatriated,” said Tlhagale. “They are living in company houses and have nowhere to go.”
BMWU says the government has failed to explain how workers on anti-retroviral treatment and other medical conditions will be treated, or clarify what will happed to the school-going children of employees subsidized by the company.
IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said: “The rash decision to close the mines and cut thousands of jobs is a catastrophe for the miner workers and their families. The government must do everything in its power to reverse the decision, save jobs and rebuild the mining industry in Botswana. The government cannot just toy with lives of workers and their families. They deserve at the very least to be treated with respect and dignity.”
On 11 October, BCL Mine pulled out of a US$337 million deal with Russian-owned Norilsk Nickel Africa to buy its 50 per cent share in the Nkomati nickel operation in South Africa. Commentators say that the reason for putting the BCL into provisional liquidation is protect it to exposure from creditors, including the failed purchase of Nkomati.