BCL: Workers’ final assault

SHARE   |   Monday, 07 November 2016   |   By Ditiro Motlhabane
BCL workers at the Selebi Phikwe Stadium BCL workers at the Selebi Phikwe Stadium

BCL miners got the shock of their life on Monday upon learning that there is no money to pay their terminal benefits, when they received termination letters from the liquidator, Nigel Dixon-Warren. The termination letter does not commit to any specific time frame for payment of the miners' dues, except when enumerating several services that have been terminated and outlining exit procedures for the deposed workers. Warren wastes no time, in the letter, informing the miners that "I have no option but to terminate your contract of employment with the company, with your last date of shift being 31 October 2016. Payment of terminal benefits will be subject to the provision of funding". To rub salt into an already gaping wound, the liquidator told the miners in no uncertain terms that going forward he cannot guarantee their continued residence in BCL houses and the mine will no longer pay housing allowance for those accommodated elsewhere. Further, those still occupying BCL houses have to sign new lease agreements to start connecting their own accounts for utilities. As part of exit process the miners have been instructed to register for exit medical examination with the mine hospital, return company property, vehicles, equipment, documents and confidential information and intellectual property. The tone of the termination letter contradicts another written earlier (October 19) where Warren promised that "you will be entitled to continue to reside in company housing or receive monthly allowance until such a time as I notify you otherwise. I will provide you with reasonable notice ... should I need to terminate the allowance".

BMWU shocked

Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) General Secretary Mbiganyi Moffat Ramokate reacted with shock at the contradicting decisions from government and the liquidator, which he said is causing a lot of confusion among the miners, further aggravating their perilous situation. BCL branch is gathering evidence relating to grievances emanating from the termination letters to engage the liquidator further, said Ramokate. He said at the Friday meeting a week earlier, AON management – the administrators of BCL Pension Fund – feigned ignorance about the ongoing liquidation because they were not consulted about the decision. Surprisingly, when the miners collected termination letters on Monday they found pension withdrawal forms from AON Botswana attached, where they were instructed to tick retrenchment as the option for separation. "We are challenging this because we believe the forms should indicate that the loss of jobs is caused by liquidation, not retrenchment. We believe that liquidation is different from retrenchment," said Ramokate.

He said they have also discovered a lot of mistakes in the termination letters and have requested another meeting with the liquidator to get further clarification on a number of issues. According to Ramokate, they have discovered that some Call-Out drivers in the main garage under engineering department, who were retained for the duration of the liquidation process, have been removed and replaced by unqualified personnel from elsewhere. "It is a mess. In some instances references contain the wrong information about workers, for example, names, length of service and designation/position," he said. A former geologist at BCL – who has lost all the privileges he enjoyed – said on Friday that he was still in town for a few weeks waiting for his children to complete their school term. "I am going back home with the family, from where I will keep looking for other job opportunities. A lot of my colleagues have already left Selebi Phikwe. A lot of exodus is expected when schools close in the next couple of weeks," he said, in a defeated voice.

Housing

Warren said employees residing in company-owned houses will be allowed to continue staying in them until further notice. Should the occupants of such property be required to vacate them, the liquidator shall provide them with three month notice. However, the miners will be issued with a lease agreement shortly to formalise their continued provision of housing. "Your repatriation allowance will be utilised as a deposit and will be released to you as and when the lease is terminated and the final property inspection has taken place, and subject to funding being available. You will be responsible for the cost of utilities for your accommodation with effect from 1st November 2016. I will notify Water Utilities Corporation (WUC) that water metres should be transferred into the name of the tenant with effect from 01 November 2016. I am currently unable to pay any housing allowance after 31 October 2016 (for employees who were provided with housing allowance)," said Warren, adding that he will notify them if this position changes.

Medical

BCL employees on a medical aid scheme, Botsogo Medical Aid Scheme, are advised that contributions have been made for the period ending 30th November 2016.  Warren emphasised that from 01 December 2016, should such employees require medical assistance they will be required to access public healthcare facilities provided by the Ministry of Health. 

Pension

The miners are entitled to one third (33.33%) of their members credit of the pension fund, subject to the provisions and limits set by the commissioner general, Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS). To access the funds, they have to complete a Pension Withdrawal Form and the benefit is normally paid out after approximately three months, provided the employee is cleared by BURS. "If your member's share is balance is less than P5, 000 the Pension Fund reserves the right to pay the full amount to you," said Warren.

Parliament intervention 

On Wednesday Tati East MP Samson Guma rallied other legislators to support former miners, who have suddenly been declared jobless. He said if need be, they should consider suspending some projects planned for under NDP 11 – which is currently being considered in a special session of Parliament – to support economic diversification efforts to create jobs in Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown. Francistown West MP Ignatius Moswaane has also tabled a motion to pressurise government to reverse the decision to close down the two mines. 



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