There is much unhappiness under contract workers at uranium mines in the Erongo region, as many workers are facing the prospect of retrenchment and long-term unemployment. Mining contractors are not retrenching contract workers merely to replace them with more highly-qualified permanent workers, but because they have no other alternative, it emerged this week.
Workers of Surecast Mining Construction, who worked for the company for quite a number of years already, are very unhappy, because they feel they must now make place for more highly qualified workers, who will be permanently employed to do the very job that they have been doing for years.
One worker, who spoke about the situation of contract labourers, said that although he has been employed at the mine for seven years, he now faces retrenchment, simply because he does not have 20 points on his Grade 12 certificate. He said that this will create much hardship and suffering for many workers and could not understand why people with experience were being dismissed, while they have to train the new workers before being made redundant.
Mr Arno Tolken, site manager of Surecast, which is contracted to supply labour to the Langer Heinrich Uranium (LHU) mine, said that the retrenchments are very unfortunate, but that they have no say in the matter. They act on the instructions of the mine and have to reduce their workforce drastically, as some of their contracts are finished and the scope of others are being reduced. Surecast already retrenched 20 workers in August last year and more retrenchments are expected to follow in the coming days and weeks.
The mines will however replace the contract workers with a much smaller permanent work force, but the lowest requirement for someone to be employed by LHU is Grade 12 qualification with more than 20 points. Unfortunately most of the Surecast employees do not have Grade 12, but those who do, are free to apply for the vacancies, Tolken said. In fact, he added that one of his former female employees, who had the necessary qualifications, is now permanently employed by the mine.
Tolken said that he knows that some of the contract workers are unhappy about the fact that they have to train the new incumbents, but said that he can also do nothing about that, because at least the one doing the training will have a job for a little bit longer. He concluded by saying that he keeps all the retrenched workers details on his books in the hope that, should they get new contracts or any other work in their field, he can re-employ them.
The reason for the reduction or cancellation of contracts could not be confirmed by the time of going to press, but the low price of uranium is considered by industry insiders to be one of the main causes in cut-backs within the uranium mining sector