BCL mine in Selebi Phikwe has been criticised for recording the highest casualties out of the total 17 miners who lost their lives on duty in different mines around the country. The criticism was made by the president of Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) Jack Tlhagale when addressing the 20th congress in Tlokweng on Thursday. He expressed concern over growing fatalities at BCL, which he said were due to deteriorating levels of safety at the mine. Of the 17 miners one (1) died in Jwaneng Debswana mine from a slope failure, two (2) died from ground fall at Ghaghoo mine in the Central Kgalagadi Game Reserve (CKGR), one (1) was run over by a front end loader at Boseto Mine-Discovery Metals Limited, two (2) persons died at Moolman Mining at Tati Nickel Mine while 11 lost their lives in BCL mine.
Tlhagale said it was disturbing that BCL mine tops the death toll. “In fact between January and February 2015 this mine had seven fatal accidents and 89 lost time reportable injuries confirming that this is an industrial homicide waiting to happen,” he said, adding that there are many mineworkers who have died at home after retirement or medical boarding or ill health separation arising from injuries on duty or occupational diseases. Tlhagale said many mine workers die a few months or years after leaving employment from work related causes. This includes mineworkers who formed part of the 181 ex BCL mine, the 461 ex Debswana and the four other former Tati Nickel Mining employees who died while waiting for justice in their unfair dismissal cases from the Botswana courts.
He said it is disheartening that a lot of miners continue to be laid off without retrenchment packages, work more than eight hours of normal shift, work shifts without allowances, stay in hostels away from their families against their management counterparts who stay in high cost housing. He reiterated that if the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 176-The Health and Safety in Mines Convention- was implemented and enforced it would help achieve the mining industry’s popular zero harm slogan.
He urged miners to stand together because one employee is powerless against an employer. “Only by standing together and being united can workers build their strength and believing that workers control the union,” said Tlhagale. He advised they stand in solidarity with all the struggling workers in Botswana and in particular the agenda of Botswana Federation of Public Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) in their fight to better employment conditions for Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) employees. He advised they also support the struggle of the people and trade unions of Swaziland to bring democracy to the kingdom.
In response the Minister of Minerals, Energy and Water Resources (MMEWR) Kitso Mokaila told the miners that they are very important to the nation as they work for a sector that contributes the biggest share to the economy. He said government is interested and in their welfare and has not abandoned plans to improve their working conditions. He assured them that accidents are investigated thoroughly to establish the cause. He said they should not suspect that there is corruption in the way accidents investigations are handled, because they only give feedback after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) have concluded their report. “We wait for the report from the DPP to tell us if someone is guilty or not and who should be accountable, so you can’t blame someone and expect us to work on those assumptions,” he said.
On other issues Mokaila said he is aware of the issue of subcontracting that has always concerned the union. On the current water crisis Mokaila said they should never think nothing is being done to have the situation under control, but they should know that this is a challenge that they should prepare for even in the future because it seems like rainfall is even becoming more unreliable. Also addressing the miners was Debswana Managing Director Balisi Bonyongo. He said they should know that it is a great opportunity to work for a mine and they should be proud of themselves because mining contributes a quarter to the GDP.
He recognised the union for contributing significantly towards the stability of the labour relations between the management and the employees. He said this is the moment for the union and management to collaborate and be in the same place but not fight. He said at the moment as Debswana they are facing a very difficult time where the mine is getting deeper while their plants are getting old. “However we are committed to the safety of our employees and we are committed to zero harm,’ he said. The theme of the congress was ‘Reclaiming our right to secure jobs and a safe workplace’.