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Namibian union declares dispute over retrenchments of 600 workers at Langer Heinrich Uranium mine

30 May, 2018With hundreds of jobs at stake, and the Langer Heinrich Uranium (LHU) mine in Erongo Province – close to Swakopmund and Walvis Bay – negotiating in bad faith, IndustriALL affiliate the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN) has declared a dispute to get fair compensation for workers facing retrenchment.

The LHU mine, a subsidiary of Australia’s Paladin Energy, has given notice to retrench 600 workers and put the mine on care and maintenance citing lowest spot uranium prices in 15 years. The company says uranium prices have not recovered since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 that was triggered by an earthquake and a tsunami. The mine, which employs 317 permanent workers, while the rest are employed by contractors, only wants to retain 20 workers, and has informed the ministry of mines and energy, the labour commissioner, and the provincial governor of its intentions.

However, Paladin doesn’t want to sell the mine but to keep it as an asset until prices pick up. Uranium spot prices are averaging US$30 but contract prices are higher. Contracts are signed years in advance of making the first delivery. In 2017 LHU produced 3.4 million pounds (1542 metric tonnes) mainly from stockpiled ore. Uranium is used in nuclear reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association there are 447 nuclear power reactors globally, with 61 under construction.

Concerned about the job losses which will affect hundreds of its members MUN is fighting for fair severance packages and has declared a dispute of interest according to Namibia’s labour laws and is questioning how the proposed severance packages were arrived at. Further, the union says LHU is negotiating in bad faith by not giving the union enough time to consider the retrenchment packages that it is proposing.

In a petition to the LHU, the MUN expresses “disappointment and dissatisfaction in the way the company has approached this very serious and equally sensitive issue of the care and maintenance decision. Despite having an active recognition and procedural agreement, the company instead elected to address a memo to the union without attempting to engage the union prior to making the decision.” The union demands that LHU considers workers families and financial obligations when coming up with the severance packages.

Says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director of mining:

“We expect global multinational mining companies to mine responsibly and respect the human rights of workers. This also applies to fair compensation of workers when there are retrenchments. It is unacceptable for mining companies to continue sacrificing workers’ livelihoods for profits.”