Nine Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) members at Rössing Uranium Mine were suspended and summoned to disciplinary hearings last week.
So far, four of the charged employees have been officially dismissed by the mine with the hearings set to conclude tomorrow.
The employees, members of the union’s Rössing branch executive committee, were charged with gross negligence, bringing the company into disrepute and breach of confidentiality.
“It’s a fundamental attack of our rights and an abuse of power by Rössing,” one of the suspended employees said. Additionally, the members claim MUN’s national leadership has offered them no support.
The suspensions follow allegations by the union that four Chinese managers at the company are illegally employed. Rössing issued the nine members letters last week outlining the charges against them.
The letter states: “In or about 27-29 June 2020 you gave instructions to Metcalfe Beukes attorneys … you were grossly negligent in your failure to establish the facts of the averments.”
Metcalfe Beukes attorneys represent the union.
The letter further says the employees were dishonest in their claims.
It says a report was published in the media in June containing the allegations, bringing the mine’s name into disrepute.
The members insist, however, they did not speak to the media.
Earlier this month, four Chinese managers at the mine were arrested by Namibian authorities, following allegations that they were employed without valid and appropriate permits.
They were later released.
Rössing Uranium Mine was sold to Chinese state-owned China National Uranium Corporation Limited (CNUC) in 2019 and China National Nuclear Corporation Rössing Uranium Limited (CNNC RUL) was formed.
While CNUC holds 68,62% shares in CNNC RUL, they are separate legal entities.
The Chinese nationals in question’s work permits are allegedly for work at CNUC, not Rössing.
A letter on 11 August by lawyer Richard Metcalfe to the mine’s lawyer, Jaco Boltman, states: “The work permits issued for the four Chinese nationals authorise them to work for China National Uranium Corporation only… it, with respect, appears that because the four persons are Chinese nationals they are immune from having to acquire proper and correct work permits.”
Boltman responded to this allegation in a letter dated 30 June.
Rössing and Boltman claim the Chinese nationals in question are in fact employed by CNUC, and only provide services to Rössing through an intercompany agreement, which makes their work permits valid and correct.
“We note that you have made a number of defamatory statements concerning our client … they are denied with the contempt they deserve,” Boltman said.
Several letters exchanged between Metcalfe and Boltman between June and August this year detail other allegations pertaining to misconduct at the mine.
Metcalfe and the MUN claim the mining company threatened to violate a procedural agreement between the union and the mine.
They also claim the four Chinese managers were not appointed to their positions as per the mining company’s recruitment selection procurement and promotion policy.
According to Metcalfe, their positions were never advertised and the Chinese nationals have not demonstrated skills which Namibians do not have.
MUN employees at the mine claim the union’s national leadership has done little to assist the nine employees since they were suspended and charged last week.
“There’s no support coming from them. What is the point of being in a union if they can’t protect us?” one of the accused employees said.
The employees also claim the union has attempted to distance itself from the controversy by saying the members acted on their own.
In a letter dated 30 June, Boltman says Metcalfe was instructed to act without the appropriate authority of the union’s national leadership.
In the letter, Boltman claims Metcalfe is therefore only representing the union’s Rössing branch, and not MUN as a whole.
“Our client [Rössing] has reason to believe that you have only been instructed by the Rössing branch office and then, without the branch executive committee having obtained the necessary authority.”
Roughly 780 union members at the mine contribute 1% of their basic salaries to the union every month.
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They are now threatening to leave the union if its leadership does not intervene in the matter.
Acting union president Allen Kalumbu has rejected claims that the union has not offered the nine charged Rössing employees support.
He also rejected the claim that the national leadership has distanced itself from Metcalfe’s instruction.
“We paid the bill [for Metcalfe’s services]. How can we say we were not involved?” Kalumbu said.
He said the union strongly condemns the actions taken by Rössing and are fully behind the charged employees.
“We don’t agree with what they [Rössing] have done. We condemn the company and hope they will do the right thing.”
Kalumbu said the union has tried its best to support the charged members, but Covid-19 state of emergency regulations have impacted their abilities as travel is limited.Rössing declined to comment on the matter.
“Rössing Uranium considers all employee-related affairs as internal matters and is not
prepared to make any information on employee-related affairs publicly available,” the mine’s spokesperson, Daylight Ekandjo, said.