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Union bickering as Tsumeb workers suffer


by Shasimana Uugulu
Courts

 

Amid the suffering, poor working conditions and health hazards exposed at the Namibia Customers Smelters (NCS) in Tsumeb, mine workers there have been without a shop-steward for about two years now, The Villager has learnt.
The former shop-steward Michael Heita (now Vice President of Mine Workers Union of Namibia) was kicked out by the workers after they suspected him of siding with the mining management and ignoring their plight.
This came after he had blocked a demonstration by NCS employees who were demanding salary adjustments early last year.
Heita however accuses the local MUN branch chairman Andreas Pandeelepo of having orchestrated workers to remove him from office without giving them a proper alternative.
He accuses Pandeelepo of not being responsive toward workers’ interests and failing to organise workers’ meetings hence the current unfair labour practices.
“Pandeelepo and the local branch leadership are failing workers. They do not consult me nor do they organise workers’ meetings to discuss challenges that workers are faced with daily. Things are happening but my hands are tied as I am no longer part of the branch leadership which is supposed to inform me officially as a national leader,” said Heita.
Some of workers at the smelter have tested positive to a cancerous illness that is eating their skins, and have resorted to reporting to political leadership in the Oshikoto region as their union representatives seemingly fail them.
On his part, Pandeelepo accuses Heita of double standards when it comes to dealing with workers matters.
He said since Heita was chased out of his full time shop steward position last year for compromising his credibility as a true workers’ representative.
“If Heita wants to talk, he must explain how he ended up being the coordinator of Human Resources at NCS on a full time basis soon after the workers had chased him out of office for siding with management. How do we work with someone who is part of the management? Is this not conflict of interest on his part?” questioned Pandeelepo.
Pandeelepo refuted claims that he is irresponsive to workers’ interests and does not organise meetings saying that Heita should not cry foul when he is not consulted as he is not part of the branch leadership.
The Villager is in possession of a letter from Heita addressed to the Tsumeb MUN branch Secretary, Hilda Pasche, where he urged the branch leadership to be responsive toward workers’ interests.
In the letter, Heita lambasted the branch’s lack of strategy to deal with unfair change of contractual agreements by the smelter management which happened without any involvement from local workers representatives.
“We cannot sit idle and observe how the management of NCS came up with unilateral changes to terms and conditions of employment as they wish, without proper consultation or engagement of the union branch on this subject matter,” reads part of the letter.
In the same letter, Heita asks the branch leaders whether NCS has the right to change or amend in any way the original terms and conditions agreed upon when workers took up employment and advised them to request the intervention of the office of the union’s President Jonas Lumbu if need be.
There are two issues which need to be challenge by the smelter; the one day health and annual leave bonus arrangement is unfair to the workers.
This has been reduced to pro rata pay-out after 12 months which is contrary to contract of employment and recognition procedural agreements (RPA).
Tsumeb MUN branch Secretary Pasche confirmed to The Villager that workers at the beleaguered smelter have been without a shop steward for the past two years but blamed the situation on the on-going rocky negotiations with NCS management regarding a new shop steward agreement.
According to Pasche, the NCS at first cancelled the position of a full-time shop steward when Heita was chased from office by the workers adding that since then the local MUN branch has been struggling to negotiate a new agreement with management.
Secretary General of MUN Jonas Lumbu is out of the country but Evilastus Kaaronda Secretary General of National Union of Namibian Worker (NUNW) also weighed in saying if Heita is truly part of the management as said by Pandeelepo then there is a conflict of interest.
However Kaaronda added that since he has not been officially informed about the situation in Tsumeb by MUN, he will only discuss the issue with The Villager on Monday.
“If what Pandeelepo told you about Heita is true, then there is a conflict of interest. However I do not want to comment on the issue until Monday when I get enough information on what is happening on the ground,” said Kaarondo.