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Mining union threatens strike

by Lesotho Times
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Billy Ntaote

THE Construction and Mineworkers Association’s Union (CAMAU) has warned of legal or industrial action against two of the country’s leading mining companies if Labour Minister, Attorney Thulo Mahlakeng does not respond to their demands.

The union wants Atty Mahlakeng to halt the granting of exemptions for Letšeng Diamond Mine and Storm Mountain Diamonds (SMD) until their grievances on working conditions are addressed.

The two mines are seeking an exemption on sections 117 and 118 of the Labour Code Order of 1992 which stipulate that an employee should not work for more than 45 hours per week.

It obligates an employer to pay double for work done during a day of rest or public holiday. The Labour Code Order also states that employees working for five days a week should work for nine hours a day, while those working six days a week should work for eight hours.

Section 119 (3) of the Labour Code Order empowers the minister to make regulations prescribing total or partial exemptions for specified types of work after consulting employers and employees’ organisations.

In a letter to the minister signed by CAMAU Secretary-General Advocate Rapelang Mosae, the union demands that the exemption applications which are “at a very advanced stage” be halted until a litany of their grievances are addressed.

Dated 8 February 2017, the letter has a report outlining all the union’s demands that were presented to Atty Mahlakeng.

In the report, Adv Mosae notes they are aware that Letšeng Diamond Mine and Storm Mountain Diamonds applied for exemption from provisions of sections 117 and 118 of the Labour Code Order of 1992.

“We are aware that Letšeng Diamond Mine has applied for renewal of its exemption, we are also aware that Storm Mountain Diamonds has also applied to be granted exemption under the Labour Code,” he says.

“We are also aware that their applications are at a very advanced stage. However, we as a union believe it is imperative to re-sound the alarm before such exemptions are issued.”

Singling out Letšeng Diamond Mine, Adv Mosae states its workers complain that the two 30-minute break periods during their 12-hour shifts is “physically taxing”.

“The workers have on previous occasions complained to management about these conditions stating that they are consistently in need of medical attention due to working such strenuous hours,” he says.

“However, they allege such complaints have not yielded any results.”

Adv Mosae points out that the workers had hoped to make presentations to the labour department when consultations were carried out during the exemption renewal process.

“However, due to the manner in which the consultations were carried out, they were unable to participate in the consultations.

“The workers state during the consultations, only a few individual workers were cherry picked to participate in the said consultations.”

Turning to SMD, Adv Mosae acknowledges that workers from the mine had been consulted on the requested exemption.

“However, they were consulted after being subjected to working long hours without the exemption. The consultations which took place at the SMD mine were conducted in a biased manner.

“The workers were constantly overruled when they endeavoured to participate such that it became clear that such was not a discussion but rather a platform for the employers to force the workers into agreeing to conditions that benefited the employer at the expense of the workers.”

Adv Mosae further contends that the workers and the employer were never in consensus on the exemption.

“The workers even went to the extent of writing to the office of the Minister of Labour and Employment on the issue of the Labour Commissioner’s conduct. . .”

He says the mine’s workers did not understand the implications of the requested exemption even after the consultations.

“We further wish to draw your attention to the fact that the Ministry of Labour earlier informed the mine that it was not convinced that the mine had carried out consultations with its workers as some of them did not understand what implications the exemption had.

“Against this backdrop, we as construction and Mineworkers Associations’ Union request to be consulted before the exemptions are granted. We make this request in consideration of section 119 (3) of the Labour Code Order 1992.”

Adv Mosae ends by demanding “swift action” from the minister in addressing the union’s demands.

“These issues have all been raised to the relevant employers. However, there is resistance on the part of employers and we have resolved to come to your good office for assistance. However, if such assistance is not provided, we are of the view that legal action or industrial action will be the solution,” he says.

Contacted for comment, Letšeng Diamonds Communication and Community Relations Officer Lebohang Chefa said: “Letšeng Diamonds is not privy to the letter nor to the union’s representation on the Letšeng operation to the minister.

“The exemption process is initially conducted internally and finalised through the Ministry of Labour.”

Mr Chefa also said the union should have engaged them first before taking their grievances to the minister.

“The welfare of staff has always been a priority for Letšeng. Had the union approached Letšeng, constructive and holistic discussions could have been held.”

SDM Corporate Chief Executive Mohale Ralikariki promised to respond to the issues raised by CAMAU. However, when the Lesotho Times went to print he had not submitted his response.

Atty Mahlakeng referred this paper to his Principal Secretary Karabo Tlhoeli.

For his part, Mr Tlhoeli urged CAMAU to follow the law and wait for the minister to make a determination on the applications for exemptions.

He said the union can then seek a review of the exemptions by the Labour Appeal Court if they felt they had been granted in an unlawful manner.

Mr Tlhoeli also indicated that the minister did not negotiate with either the workers or the employers but merely gathered their views.

“The exemption, if granted, would also stipulate how employees shall be compensated. In considering granting these exemptions, the minister also considers International Labour Organisation conventions,” he said, adding that CAMAU’s demand for the minister to stop the process is a “wrong approach”.

“The union should wait for the minister to make a determination, and when an exemption is made, they can go to court to challenge the exemption and seek a review.

“In such a scenario, the matter would be brought before the Labour Appeal Court since it is the court with the authority to hear the review applications on the exemptions.”

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