MASERU – Diamond mining company Minopex has continued hiring locals as casual workers at its Letšeng mine, some for over a decade, provoking the ire of labour ministry officials.
The disgruntled labourers brought their plight to light this week telling Public Eye the mining giant had rehired them as independent contractors, again in clear violation of labour regulations.
The workers have been demanding permanent jobs, arguing the law states they should be hired full-time after working as casuals for a while.
Public Eye in November last year revealed some miners were employed on short-term contracts for prolonged periods.
The body of evidence gathered by this paper then indicated the workers earned as little as M1 500 per month, a far cry from what factory workers earn.
Factory workers’ minimum wage was increased last year to M1,696 monthly, up from M1,238.
One miner, who was first employed at the mine more than five years ago, albeit temporarily, anonymously told Public Eye this week: “Our situation has not changed a bit since you last spoke to us last year. Now we are in a six-month contract which expires in about two months. We get paid a measly M12,13 per hour.”
The mineworker indicated this kind of employment has no security, no pension and leaves them living from hand-to-mouth from one contract assignment to the next.
He said securing permanent status would change his life drastically.
“I will be able to build a house, buy a car, take my children to a better school and take my family to a private doctor when they are sick because I would have medical aid,” he said.
It is unclear what promises Minopex made when it first engaged the workers in 2011.
The company did not respond to emailed questions.
When contacted yesterday, the Ministry of Labour and Employment’s Principal Secretary (PS) Lerotholi Pheko said: “The workers should write me a letter presenting their concerns as soon as next week. They should submit their letter straight to my office.”
However, some employees were afraid to write to the PS saying this move would force them to reveal their identities which could lead to their persecution.
“They will not be victimised by anyone. That is why I am saying their letter must come straight to my office so that it can be received my me,” Pheko said.
The casual labourers live in a deplorable informal settlement a few metres outside the Letšeng mine compound.
The hideous informal settlement, known as ka Mokhukhung or ka Motseng, began as a squatter camp for jobseekers.
For interim employment, the job-seekers have turned to the informal economy, opening spaza shops and shebeens – unregulated drinking places.
Owned by the London-listed Gem Diamonds and the Lesotho government, Letšeng mine is the highest dollar per carat Kimberlite diamond mine in the world. It is Lesotho’s most successful diamond mine.
When Public Eye broke the story last November, Letšeng Diamond Mine’s Communications & Community Relations Officer Lebohang Chefa asked this paper to direct its inquiries to Minopex.
Chefa said Minopex was best placed to address the inquires.
According to a Mining News article published on June 3, 2013, Minopex has “successfully operated Gem Diamonds’ Letšeng plant in Lesotho for 10 years, while also expanding into Botswana”.
In the article titled: Diamond Process Professionals, Minopex business development director Rafael Abela was quoted saying: “Minopex has been involved operationally in every diamond plant in the diamond-rich Lesotho.
“So much so that companies Minopex Lesotho and Minopex Botswana were established to best support all activities to the diamond plants we work on in these two countries.”
Abela was also quoted saying: “The result of our drive to deliver and the commitment from our operational staff has seen our diamond operations staff headcount grow significantly over the years. We currently employ over 300 people for our diamond operations alone.”
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) last month tabled a report stating that it discovered that the Lesotho Labour Code of 1992 “is being contravened when expatriates without rare skills are employed within the mining industry.
“This is because only expatriates with rare skills are eligible for work permits,” the committee said.
It said it learned about fraudulent practices whereby non-deserving persons were given works permits and officers in the Ministry of Labour and Employment had solicited bribes from both foreigners and locals to issue work permits.