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Union takes Barloworld Equipment to court over salary cuts

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  • Unionsays BarloworldisinbreachMemorandumof Agreement
  • Wantscompanytostopsalarycutsuntilconclusionofmediation

SESUPO RANTSIMAKO

FRANCISTOWN: The Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) wants to stop Barloworld Equipment from slashing the salaries and benefits of its members until conclusion of mediation by the Commissioner of Labour in the dispute, The Botswana Gazette has established.

According to documents filed with the Industrial Court, Barloworld Equipment – which is contracted to Debswana, made cost-saving proposals to the union on 14 May 2020 that included employees sacrificing their salaries from July to September because of the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s bottom line.

Other proposals were suspension of the 13th cheque and payment for overtime, being on standby, shift allowances, as well as utility and after-hours allowances. However, while BMWU considered these proposals unfair, it believes the company is ahead in their implementation.

According to court papers, the position of the union was that matters pertaining to salary cuts should be properly negotiated by the two parties. The union says Barloworld Equipment nevertheless remained adamant about cutting salaries and allowances.

“BMWU addressed a letter to Barloworld on 29th June, 2020 demanding that they cease implementation of all disputed matters,” the union says in its documents before court. “The letter was not favoured with any response and no action was taken by Barloworld with regards to the implementation of the decision or disputed issues between the parties by 1st July, 2020.”

According to the union, since it was not favoured with any response by the respondent, it was safe to assume that Barloworld would not continue with contemplated implementation of disputed matters that it had contemplated.
The union was thus dismayed when its members received letters from the Barloworld Equipment dated 7 July 2020 informing them about their intention to cut their salaries and that the reduction would be effective from 1 July 2020 to 30 September 2020, it says.

Through their attorney, Phemelo Gaborapelwe of Gaborapelwe Attorneys, BMWU has submitted that Barloworld Equipment has no intention of staying implementation of its decision. “There is no reasonable explanation for the conduct of Barloworld Equipment in seeking to implement a decision that is clearly disputed by the parties and a decision that is in clear violation of the Memorandum of Agreement between the parties,” says the union.

“The decision taken by Barloworld Equipment is one that cannot be taken or reached through a consultative forum but rather it is a decision that the parties are mandated to negotiate on. The inexplicable position adopted by the respondent to consult and not negotiate on the issue of salary cuts was prejudicial and a clear breach of the parties’ agreement.”

In their statement of defence, Barloworld Equipment states that it is surprising for the union that at the last minute after having gone through all the meetings they seek to rely on the MOA in an effort to avoid changes to the terms and conditions of employment an action which was unreasonable bad faith and disingenuous. Further Barloworld states that in mid-May 2020 they invited the union to a consultation for purposes of discussing ways of salvaging the business, which had been affected negatively by COVID-19.

“In fact, the union had previously been invited for teleconference meetings in early May but had not been forthcoming in that regard and refused. The issue that was core for discussion at the meeting on 14th May 2020 and all other subsequent meetings was, possible cost saving measures to drastically reduce Barloworld expenses in an effort to avoid the real risk of the business closing down and going into liquidation. On 18th June 2020, the last day of lengthy consultations given the dire financial situation faced by Barloworld , the union stated that issues that touched on conditions of employment were issues that ought to be negotiated between the parties and not consultation and the basis for this position as they stated was the Agreement between the parties,” Barloworld states in their statement of defense.

In addition, Barloworld says that on the last day of the last meeting, the they informed the BMWU of the decision that effective 1st July 2020 a salary sacrifice and payment of a CONTOPS allowance along with various other cost saving measures would be implemented.

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