The underground Namibia Tantalite Investment Mine near Warmbad in the //Karas region has re-employed 17 of the 91 workers it had recently retrenched due to losses blamed on water shortages and a lack of production.
The re-employed staff will form part of a skeleton crew of close to 15 workers who had been retained to keep the mine operational. This transpired during a meeting minister of mines and energy Tom Alweendo had with the company management and regional political leadership at the mine on Thursday to address them on the retrenchment issue. The company’s CEO, Larry Johnson, said a bold decision was taken to retrench the workers because “(mining) production could not sustain the salary base”.
The retained multi-skilled workers, he said, were recruited on 1 October to perform maintenance works, as well as assist with ongoing exploration drilling and plant upgrading work. According to him, the mine is expected to become fully operational in 2020, following the completion of the project to draw water from the Orange River for mining.
Johnson could not guarantee that the retrenched workers would have their jobs back when full production resumes at the mine, only saying that they would be given preference during job interviews.
For his part, Alweendo said he must first be convinced that mining operations are not sustainable before revoking a mining licence, referencing the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN)’s call for the cancellation of tantalite mine’s licence over the retrenchments they termed as unfair.
The union had also accused the mining company of not having followed labour laws in retrenching the workers – a claim Johnson had strongly refuted at Thursday’s meeting with the minister.
“We have followed the laws with regards to the retrenchments,” he insisted.
Kazera Global currently holds a 75% stake in African Tantalum (AFTAN), which operates the Namibian Tantalite Investment Mine (NTI).
Meanwhile, Alweendo on Thursday afternoon also had a meeting with the Warmbad community to give them feedback on the meeting he had with Tantalite’s management, and to hear their views on the retrenchment issue that has split them in two warring factions.
A faction of the community supports the union’s calls for the mining licence to be revoked, while the other group rejects the proposal. “I am prepared to give the Tantalite mine management the benefit of the doubt for what they had pledged with regards to mining sustainability,” the minister told the community.
“I will keep them accountable on their promise,” he added.
The minister also promised to look into the issues of safety at the mine raised by some retrenched workers during the meeting. Community members likewise expressed disappointment that they have not benefited from the mine in terms of corporate social responsibility.