The retrenchments happened as mines and energy minister Tom Alweendo, in a letter dated 30 August, requested the company’s chief executive officer, Larry Johnson, to meet him to discuss the situation at the mine.
According to the letter, the minister called for the meeting to take place on 10 September.
Alweendo could not be reached for comment yesterday, as his cellphone went unanswered. The minister also did not respond to text messages. Johnson told Nampa this week that he did not receive the letter as he was out of the country, and only heard about it this week.
In the notice, dated 1 June, the company said it intended retrenching across all categories from management to mining, engineering, estate and procurement, because of “economic reasons”.
The notice claims the company suffered a loss of almost N$30 million in the 2016/17 financial year.
In a media statement on Monday announcing the retrenchments, the company said it had done all it could before taking the decision to lay off staff.
“I assure you that we have first and foremost followed the labour laws, and used third party labour experts, as well as legal practitioners who are resident experts in labour to ensure that we followed the entire process,” said Johnson.
He also said negotiations were conducted and concluded in good faith with the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), while expressing the company’s sincere gratitude to all the affected employees for their time and commitment at the mine.
According to Johnson, the company was working on two major projects – exploration drilling for the resource, and bidding for Orange River water extraction.
“Both are necessary before we are able to look at the restart, which is the main objective,” he said, adding that the company will focus on the necessary work ahead.
Asked why the company had decided to retrench workers when the minister had requested them not to do so until after the 10 September meeting, Johnson replied: “All is in the media statement”.
MUN’s southern regional organiser Elvis Bekele yesterday condemned the retrenchments, and vowed that the union would lodge an urgent application to nullify what he called the “unfair dismissals of workers”.
He accused the company of going ahead with the retrenchments while negotiations were still ongoing to find ways to minimise job losses.
Bekele also expressed disappointment that the company ignored Alweendo’s request to temporarily suspend the retrenchments. “The MUN cannot tolerate such kinds of chicken behaviour by investors to undermine the highest authority in this country,” the unionist stated, calling on the government to revoke the company’s mining licence with immediate effect.
“We are not going to allow these capitalist attitudes in this country. What the hell does he [Johnson] think? This is total nonsense,” he charged.