Swaziland: 100 workers locked in mine

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Sifuna Zonke
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Jan 31 2008 13:38
Swaziland: 100 workers locked in mine

by Ackel Zwane, The Swazi Observer,
January 25, 2008

About a 100 mineworkers are said to have been locked inside the shaft
of Maloma Colliery since Wednesday midnight.

Selby Mtshali, President of the Mining Quarrying and Allied Workers
Union of Swaziland (MQAWUS) has alleged that they have been locked in
there in the aftermath of the general lockout following a strike
action that was to start at midnight on Wednesday. Surprisingly the
Mine Manager J. Breytenbach says there are about 78 underground
workers who are refusing to come out to the surface as a form of
protest.

Mtshali said the workers were in the Wednesday 6pm shift and were to
knock off at 4am yesterday. However because of the strike action the
workers allege that management decided to lock those inside the shaft
there while others were locked out and as a result those in the
morning shift were not allowed in. Mtshali said the only food ration
they had was two packets of 100 grams of Movite energy food.

When we visited the mine the premises were locked and guarded by both
security and police. 78 underground workers are refusing to come out
to the surface as a form of protest, but talks are underway to
persuade them to abandon this action for safety reasons, says
Breytenbach in a media communiqué.

The workers interviewed on site yesterday said they feared for their
colleagues because of the explosives inside the shaft and any other
eventualities. It is disturbing, though, to hear that there are two
conflicting reports of what is happening at the mine.
Labour inspectors from Big Bend declined to talk to our reporters
because they said they were still consulting.

The bone of contention is parity on remuneration. They argue that
their counterparts working for the same establishment in South Africa
earned far higher wages than them yet the coal from Swaziland is of
higher quality and fetches more in the market.

It was gathered from the workers that after salary negotiation failed
the union invoked Clause 7.2.1 whereby it was agreed to refer the
dispute to voluntary conciliation. This, they say, was after two
months of discussions. They claim that both parties approached the
labour commissioner who advised that he could only intervene after the
law had been breached. He advised them to exhaust the Conciliation,
Mediation and Arbitration Commission (CMAC) route. ?It was then that
we declared a dispute and obtained a certificate of unresolved dispute
on December 12, said Mtshali.

The demand was that of the wages and conditions of employment. The
workers claim they wanted parity with other Xstrata alloys (mother
company) employees. They further say management receives SA salary
scales while the ordinary mineworker receives peanuts. They want
this (parity) to apply to all staff. They further allege that some
senior managers were offered 25 percent salary raise while junior
staff got only six percent. They say management has been hosting
lavish parties of late instead of paying them well.

Then the matter went through balloting by invoking Section 86 (2) of
the Industrial Relations Act of 2005 as amended. CMAC conducted the
balloting which favoured the workers by 99.12 votes, they say. Only
two were against the strike action out of 440 employees.

?After the results of the balloting, we returned to the employer to
reiterate our position that we did not want to resort to a strike but
wanted to negotiate salary increments, but he told us that he had no
alternative because he could not meet out demands, says Mtshali. He
says the workers then invoked Section 86 (7) of the Act on Monday,
January 21.

A notice was issued to the employer which he duly signed: In terms
of Section 86 (7) of the Industrial Relations Act No1. of 2000 as
amended in 2005 notice of our members to engage in a strike on the 24
January, 2008 under the employ of Maloma Colliery Pty (Ltd) is hereby
given?.

The strike action is a result of the dispute that was declared
unresolved by the Commission (Unresolved Dispute Certificate 695107)
issued on the 12 December, 2007. Kindly be advised of our all time
commitment in resolving this matter. Signed by Mtshali.

However, the union argues that management did not give them any notice
of lockout as required by law. When the workers were to leave the
shaft yesterday morning (midnight) it was locked. There were no buses
to ferry the workers from the shaft.

We asked the boss and he told us that he had made a legal lockout. We
still do not have the letter informing us of the lockout as required
by Section 86 (8) of the Act, says Mtshali.

By late yesterday they were going for more talks at Nisela Safaris,
further away from the mine premises. Earlier in the day the workers
had requested them not to attend talks so far away without the rest of
the workers being given a constant feedback.