Beifang mine workers accuse employer of labour violations

Ester Mbathera

Employees of Beifang Mining Services have accused their employer of not adhering to labour laws and subjecting them to bad working conditions.

Employees spoke to the Windhoek Observer on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation

“Things at Beifang are worse, victimisation, tribalism, racism, favouritism, discrimination, unfair dismissal, and underpayment are the order of the day. We are forced to work on weekends continuously with no overtime unless on a public holiday,” said one employee.

The employee added that the safety of the workers is their biggest concern.

The employee claims that those who speak up face suspension.

“The worst part is poor working conditions. Truck operators are forever complaining about backaches because of the poor roads in the pits and the dust. They don’t even have water dosers.” The only water dosers on site are for Swakop Uranium,” explained the employee.

According to the employees, several of them, especially operators who drive heavy-duty vehicles, are suffering from kidney problems caused by bad roads in the mine.

“The bosses covered up this story and gave the operator something to silence him. The workers don’t even get bonuses. All they get is cool drinks at the end of their work shifts,” alleged the employees.

Beifang Mining Services’ human resource manager, Anthony Wilson did not respond to questions sent to him by the time the article was published.

Safety concerns have persisted at the mine.

In 2019, the mine experienced a strike by disgruntled employees supported by the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), demanding the removal of Beifang Mining Services from the site.

At the time, Beifang, the drilling and blasting contractor, was accused of leaving detonators lying around on the site.

On 25 April The MUN and the management of Beifang Mining Services signed an agreement that saw employees within the drilling, loading, and hauling departments receive payment in full at double the employees’ hourly basic rate for “work on Sundays” (overtime).

MUN secretary-general, George Ampweya explained that despite the employer being exempted from paying overtime under Section 21 of the Namibian Labour Act 11-2007 due to being designated as a continuous operation, they reached this agreement.

“The parties further agreed that all employment contracts will be extended to align with the duration of the service level agreements between the company and its clients Rössing Uranium and Swakop Uranium, respectively,” he said.

The Windhoek Observer has learned that neither the MUN nor the Revolutionary Union RU have full bargaining power at the mine.

Workers are currently torn between MUN and RU.

RU and Beifang Mining Services, on 20 March signed a recognition agreement.

The agreement was reversed by Beifang Mining Services on 11 April.

The mine claimed that the union only had 49% worker representation.

“We have discovered that the application forms we have received as well as the total number of active employees on your list contain 274 employees out of the 598 employees at the end of March,” Wilson told RU in a letter dated 11 April.

RU’s central secretary, Julius Natangwe, refuted these claims, stating that they have 403 members because they submitted a list of 70 applications on 12 April.

He also alleged that the mine has delayed paying the workers’ membership money over to the union.

“Take note that any job losses or victimisation of our members while in the process of playing your dirty politics, will be considered a declaration of war against the RU. We are not shaken, and in fact, your dirty games will only make us stronger,” said Natangwe.

In the meantime, RU has called on Vice President Netumbo Nandi-Ndeitwah to visit Beifang Mining Services and the African Big Lion mine.

In a letter dated 30 April to Nandi-Ndeitwah, the union’s central secretary, Julius Natangwe, alleged unfair labour practices and unconducive working conditions by African Big Lion Mine and Beifang Mining Services.

“We respectfully request that you consider paying a courtesy visit to Beifang Mining Services and Africa Big Lion to witness firsthand the plight of the workers and to demonstrate your support for their rights. Your intervention could make a significant difference in improving the working conditions and livelihoods of these individuals,” said Natangwe.

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