‘Working conditions deplorable’

Lack of safety protocols

04 February 2021 | Labour

Joseph Garoeb; MMMC deputy secretary general; “…issues were forwarded to the mine and the ministry of mines. Nothing has come from it.”

UIS



The management of Uis Tin Mine denied allegations of unfair labour practices, nepotism, substandard facilities and alleged safety breaches at the mine.

This came after a group of workers backed by the Mining Metal Maritime and Construction (MMMC) union levelled a number of accusations concerning the aforementioned issues against mine management.

Uis Tin Mine is a subsidiary of AfriTin Mine.

The mine employs approximately 90 workers and four contractors, namely Metal Mill Engineering (responsible for maintenance), Bulldogs Blasting, Nexus, and Ino Mining which is tasked with transporting the ore from the mine to the processing plant.

The mine began employing workers permanently in supervisory and management positions in 2018, and then employed most of its workforce in early 2019.

Safety

According to the mine workers, health and safety protocols are not in place and the engineering contractor responsible for maintenance does not apply or comply with safety measures, mechanisms and principles.

The management of the mine refuted this.

The workers say they are exposed to dust elements and do not know the dangers of inhaling such components generated by mining activities. They add that management dismissed the safety committee that was established in 2020, saying this was done for the sake of only having to do so.

According to the workers, when government officials arrive for inspection, the machines of the entire plant are switched off and large areas are sprayed with water to prevent dust clouds and to curb dust generation.

The mine said that this was not true.

MMMC deputy secretary general Joseph Garoeb said that allegations made by the workers are a true reflection of observations made by the union.

“Entry and exist tests are not carried out for workers. The sliding entry tests are done, but when workers resign or are dismissed, no exit test is conducted.”

According to Garoeb, only the main contractor has a safety officer who is tasked with overseeing the safety measures of all other contractors.

“This should not be the case. Also, workers are not provided with proper PPE. The main contractor’s safety officer has reported many irregularities in terms of safety issues to management and to our office. We have it on record. Issues were forwarded to the mine and the ministry of mines. Nothing has come from it.”

Social security

One of the allegations is that workers are not registered for Social Security while money is being deducted from their salaries for this purpose. In addition, their salaries are not market-related, with some earning below N$4 000.

These allegations are also “very” true, Garoeb said.

“Social Security fees are deducted but such monies are not paid over. This came to the fore when workers resigned, were dismissed or injured on duty. The salaries offered by the main and subcontractors are indeed not market related. Workers have no benefits and receive a housing allowance of as little as N$300.”

The mine’s general manager, C.J. Smith, countered that the remuneration package and payment procedures at the company fully comply with applicable legislation.

“The company is in good standing (i.e. holds letters of good standing) with relevant authorities,” he said.

Medical treatment

The workers also allege that when they are injured, they are treated as criminals and forced to continue working.

“There is no official policy in place. There are no doctors or x-ray facilities at Uis. Workers are dumped in Swakopmund and must return to work at their own cost. Doctors are instructed not to book off injured workers, but to rather put such persons on light duty.”

The mine management said that this is not true.

According to the workers, contracts are being changed at will. Continuous shifts were introduced and changed several times, and off days for workers were only recently introduced.

What’s more, the union alleges that the affirmative action committee was handpicked by the employer and henceforth reports do not truly reflect what is happening on the ground.

They also accused Metal Mill of hiring and firing workers at will.

“The company commenced with fulltime operations in March 2020, prior to which a comprehensive process of negotiations with employees was attended to before agreeing to and signing off on the Continuous Operations Agreement. This included specifically the agreement pertaining to the shift roster and was submitted to our and approved by the labour ministry,” explained Smith.

Facilities

According to the workers, containers were converted into a canteen and toilets.

“These facilities were formerly used at the Neckartal dam site and are very unhygienic. Dust gathers in the canteen while we are eating. The toilets are not being maintained and do not function properly. This condition is prevailing since mining operations commenced,” Garoeb said.

However, Smith refuted these allegations, saying that the canteen, ablution, and site office facilities are provided to compliant standards. “These facilities are provided with the expected services such as electricity, running water, microwave, cold water drinking equipment, etc.”

Furthermore, the workers accuse the mine of advertising jobs in the local media merely for window dressing purposes and in most instance, the positions have already been filled.

Smith also refutes this, saying that “all company vacancies are publicly advertised, qualifying candidates are interviewed, evaluated, and appointed after a comprehensive selection process. Uis Tin Mining Company features a 100% Namibian workforce with a strong emphasis on and under high achievement of gender equality.”

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