‘If the union hear this they will be very angry’ — leaked Mutjavikua audio
Following a mass demonstration at Husab Mine near Arandis on Tuesday, where workers under the banner of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) downed tools over health and safety procedures at the mine, union leaders met on Wednesday to discuss the leaked recording of Erongo Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua advising the Chinese mining company to bypass the wage negotiation process.
The resistance by mineworkers at Husab comes at a time of tense wage negotiations, which have dragged on since October 2018, but their protest was overshadowed this week by a leaked audio recording wherein Governor Mutjavikua can be heard advising the Chinese-owned mining firm, Swakop Uranium, to apply for “company re-organisation” through the Office of the Labour Commissioner, so as to nullify the bargaining agreement with the MUN, rather than amend it through wage negotiations.
“Now this is very bad what I’m proposing. If the union hear about these things they will be very angry with me,” he noted before explaining how the company can bypass the collective bargaining agreement. The issue at stake is that Swakop Uranium wants to move to a three-year wage agreement, with an offer of a total 6 percent increase for the coming two years, whereas the MUN insists on annual wage negotiations, as per the agreement and are demanding a 10 percent increase.
“You tell the Labour Commissioner, ‘I have a problem at the company, I want to fix something in terms of processes and I want to reorganise… There are measures you can employ to arrive at a proper result rather than to do things in an atmosphere of wage negotiations,” Mutjavikua advised.
‘President won’t do anything’
When asked about the legality and “political ramifications” of such a move, he said: “The only political ramification will be just that the President will just be on my neck… he won’t intervene. He won’t tell the workers [what to do] because it’s an election year.
“He won’t even come near [and] will rather support them also. He will just support them. In an election year, you cannot take that voting bloc and [ignore it].” He added that President Hage Geingob would only “get involved at the last minute, but then he won’t do anything also.”
As for the Husab workers, Mutjavikua, himself a former trade unionist, said: “These guys will go on strike. They can.” In response, one of the Chinese managers can be heard asking how the workers will support their families if they are on strike without pay.
“The problem is the NUM is now a very rich union. You guys must take cognizance that you are not dealing with NAFAU (Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union). You are dealing with the mineworkers union. They have millions of dollars and can sustain a strike for two to three months,” Mutjavikua said.
Asked about the legality of applying to restructure the company when clearly the intention is to change the terms of the agreement, the governor advised the managers to tell the commissioner the following: “‘We have this company, we want to reorganise on point one, production, health and safety, our KP (performance target) is not proper. We want to reorganize whatever. We want to streamline. We want what, what, and that is what we propose to the Labour Commissioner… We are going to have job losses but … we need to do ABC.”
One of the managers asked, “When you are talking about reorganising, [is that] similar to retrench and recruit?”
“Ja, it give you power even to do so,” the governor replied.
Asked whether the union would not challenge such a move, he said: “That one they can try [but] you also put them in a defensive position. You will be on an offensive. You will not be equal.”
Dangerous working conditions
A spokesperson of the mineworkers at Husab told Confidente that they were in heated meetings Wednesday to respond to the governor and the company.
The branch chairman of the MUN at Husab said they downed tools on Tuesday because of the dangers on site. They found live boosters and detonators lying around in the mine pit and on 12 February a booster exploded while people were working in the pit.
He said safety reps are on site but the subcontractors tend not to adhere to regulations. In October a truck driver died in the pit when the vehicle he was in overturned and crushed him inside. Last month a worker was severely injured but was kept on site by the subcontractor after a visit to the doctor.
Health and safety concerns formed the core of the petition the workers handed over on Tuesday. They say their lives are at risk. The wage negotiations that started on 15 October are also still not concluded and may lead to strike action.
The MUN demands a 10% increase across the board, and that the housing allowance be raised from N$2,500 to N$6,000 per year. They also rejected the change to a three-year agreement on the grounds that the union’s recognition agreement stipulates annual negotiations.
‘Recall Mutjavikua’, says NUNW
At a hastily convened press briefing in Windhoek on Wednesday afternoon, leaders of the NUNW came out with guns blazing to demand that the governor resign or be recalled.