Bindura Nickel Corporation Listed (BNC) on Thursday suspended Francis Muvhevhi, one of its workers’ leaders, for exposing shocking labour abuses by the country’s sole primary nickel producer, about a month after it announced to employees and management that it had decided on a second retrenchment.
The ZSE-listed extractor is already embroiled in a messy labour feud with its employees and managers who have taken the company to court to fight numerous alleged violations of employment contracts since the company withdrew its retrenchment bid last year.
Muvhevhi, who is employed by Trojan Mine as a clerk, was served with the suspension letter on Thursday and subsequently driven out of the plant just before a scheduled joint consultative meeting between the management and worker representatives of Tojan Mine, Bindura Smelter & Refinery and Shangani Mine, currently on care and maintenance.
The meeting was subsequently called off.
The suspension letter, signed by Trojan Mine captain Michael Toringepi and printed on Mwana Africa plc’s letterhead, stated that Muvhevhi had been suspended with immediate effect for speaking to NewsDay on the company’s unending labour disputes and the deterioration of employee welfare since BNC shut down its operations in December 2008.
“The specific issue giving rise to your disciplinary action is that you’re alleged to have breached Section 9.2, part C of the Group Employment Code of Conduct by your statements to the NewsDay articles published on 10 October 2010 and 11 October 2010.”
The disciplinary hearing on the matter is scheduled for October 26, next week.
Before going to press on Thursday, NewsDay called BNC managing director David Murangari and chief operating officer Batisai Manhando seeking comment, but was told to e-mail Kalaa Mpinga in London.
Mpinga is the CEO of AIM-listed Mwana Africa plc, which holds a controlling interest in BNC that took over Tojan Mine, Bindura Smelter & Refinery and Shangani Mine from Anglo-American plc.
“It’s an attempt to victimise me, yet as a workers’ representative I’m allowed to speak on behalf of workers,” Muvhevhi said in telephone interview from Bindura.
“They want to get rid of me so that they deny workers protection and representation.”
Muvhevhi said it’s the second time BNC had tried to haul him before a disciplinary hearing that he thinks had been hatched to fire him as a reprisal for the role he has played in fighting a trail of BNC labour disputes related to the failed retrenchment, illegal suspension of salaries and forfeiture of benefits, unfunded retirements and illegal eviction of employees, among other grievances.
He said the aborted joint consultative meeting had been called to discuss the issue of school fees and the fate of over 50 widows of BNC employees who died after the company put its operations on care and maintenance, and to determine whether the cases should be referred to the Labour Court.
Under BNC’s company policy, widows are entitled to an insurance cover equivalent to a 24-month salary.
“The widows have stayed on the mine for over a year without receiving their benefits.
Meanwhile, the $50 monthly allowances were cut the very month their husbands died, meaning they are not receiving a cent from the company,” Muvhevhi said, adding that the suspension was also a desperate bid to block him from opening another case on behalf of eight employees who were retired without benefits in 2008, prior to the shut-down.
“On Tuesday I received a certificate of no settlerment from the Labour Court in Bindura.
The court has referred the case to Harare for arbitration.
The employees have spent 22 months without receiving their benefits.”
According to Muvhevhi, the affected employees, who were retired prior to shut-down, were advised they would receive their terminal benefits along with those who would be retrenched the following year.
However, BNC withdrew the retrenchment application a month after obtaining a thumbs up from the Ministry of Labour in April last year, stating it would retain every employee as it could not afford the retrenchment bill.
But the company has allegedly reneged on its obligations to the retirees since reversing the retrenchment.