Nanlo plans urgent meeting to save Weatherly workers

16 Sep 2015 16:20pm
WINDHOEK, 16 SEP (NAMPA) - The Namibia National Labour Organisation (Nanlo) plans to convene an urgent meeting with the management of Weatherly International before the end of this week to determine the future of 222 retrenched workers.
Weatherly International announced on Monday that it suspended operations at the Otjihase and Matchless mines due to copper prices this year reaching the lowest level in six years and because the copper production at its central operations is no longer commercially viable.
Otjihase is located about 18 kilometres northeast of the capital, while Matchless is about 30 kilometres southwest of the capital.
Ongolo Mining Limited, a subsidiary of the Canadian company, is also unable to fund continued losses and the board had no alternative, but to take immediate action to prevent the accumulation of further losses, said the company.
During a meeting with workers from the respective mines on Tuesday, Nanlo President Evilastus Kaaronda raised the concern that over the past few months, the mining company delayed the signing of a bargaining agreement with the union.
“Over the past few months, the union tried to talk to the company to represent the workers, but management played tactics and delayed the signing of the agreement,” he noted.
Kaaronda is not convinced that lower copper prices are the result of the closing of the two mines while the company’s other copper mine, Tschudi, is in production.
He questioned whether the price of copper at Tschudi is “sweeter” than that of Otjihase and Matchless mines. Tschudi is an open-pit mine, located about 13 kilometres north of Tsumeb.
Meanwhile, Weatherly Namibia Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Craig Thomas said in a media statement on Monday that the Tschudi mine is exceeding expectations, adding the company will convert its Otjihase and Matchless mines to project development status, as the company prepares them for future production expansion.
When the announcement was made about Tschudi, international reports indicated that shares in Weatherly jumped over 10 per cent early on Monday, after the miner lifted production guidance for Tschudi.
Thomas also noted that operations at the two mines have incurred multi-million dollar losses over the past eight months, despite investing in actions designed to increase production levels to offset the declining copper price.
However, the board is of the view that the Otjihase and Matchless mines will be able to resume operations when market conditions improve materially, possibly in the medium-term. For this reason, only a small team will be engaged to maintain the mines and infrastructure in good condition, as well as to implement a project development plan designed to boost productivity when the mines reopen. This might be in the next two to three years, according to Thomas.
Kaaronda questioned the integrity of the management of the company, saying they should have made necessary arrangements to save the workers from losing their jobs.
“When the copper price was beautiful, why did the company not use the savings to carry it during the difficult times? The company has very selfish interests at heart. We do not accept retrenchments,” he fumed.
Weatherly said all affected employees will be offered the normal packages, comprising accrued leave, a severance package and a certificate of service.
Meanwhile, 63-year-old Matheus Ipwakena expressed disappointment in the company.
“I have been working for close to 20 years at this company with many intervals that had so many names; now I am jobless. I just want my money and go back home in OWamboland,” he told Nampa after the meeting with the union.