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NICKEL AND DIE

STUART WHITE
The world in Black-n-White


There’s no doubt that the biggest HR/PR story in Botswana this month has to be the closure of the BCL copper/nickel mine in Selebi-Phikwe, along with Tati Nickel. 

The High Court has appointed a liquidator to oversee the disposal of assets and work out exit packages for employees leaving the entire process in a state of flux.  The only certainty is that the ailing mine appears due for permanent shutdown, with the loss of thousands of jobs.

The future for this mining town is truly too disastrous to contemplate.

The loss of jobs and income for mine employees will be bad enough; not only does the mine employ staff, it also houses them and residents have been given formal notice to vacate their grace and favour accommodation by the end of month; further, in an effort to avoid more financial loss, water supplies have been discontinued from staff housing and electricity disconnections are due to follow; the mine has also undertaken to subsidise the educational needs of children of mine families in private schools in the town, offered at a flat rate of P300 per child per term – this benefit will also be immediately withdrawn; the mine has additionally taken care of their medical needs with a mine clinic staffed by in-house doctors and nurses – that too will have to close; and all those mine workers who only have one trade, one saleable skill, will have nowhere to go in the area to look for alternative employment. 

What use is a miner with no mine?

But it doesn’t stop there.  Selebi-Phikwe is a town built to support its major industry – the copper and nickel mines.  Retailers survive with business from mine staff and their families.  How will they stay in business when their customer base disappears and residents are counting every thebe?  The same goes for petrol stations and other service providers, not to mention those businesses serving the mine directly; butcheries, greengrocers and farmers supplying food to the canteen, liquor wholesalers relying on business from the mine club; repair shops providing outsourced vehicle and building maintenance….this list goes on and on. 

Almost every business in Selebi-Phikwe will somehow be connected to and reliant on, business from the greater mine operations and all of them will feel the pinch badly – many for sure will go under.  Even those that manage to stay afloat may have to lay off part of their own workforce. Bet your bottom copper coin, a great deal of people won’t be sleeping too well at the moment, contemplating a scary and uncertain future.

A number of factors have contributed to this sad state of affairs; indeed threats of closure have hung over this unprofitable operation for years but this is now no longer a future threat, it is a clear and present danger and a stark reality.  BCL is closing, jobs, housing and other perquisites will be withdrawn and many families face severe hardship.

The problem is not new, merely new to Botswana.  One of the most famous examples occurred in a town called Jarrow in the north-east of England in the 1930s, when their only source of work and income, a shipyard, was forced to close, making most of the local men redundant.  This was long before today’s generous British social services system when no job meant no money and families forced into abject poverty.

There was a small unemployment  benefit which lasted for 26 weeks, after which, people were given transitional payments, subject to the  Household Means Test introduced in 1931, whereby the wages of all family members, and any household assets, were taken into account when deciding whether or not relief should be paid. This meant that in some cases redundant men were dependant on their daughters or wives, a situation that did not sit well in an era when the head of the household, the man, was expected to be the primary breadwinner and not to do so was looked on as emasculating and embarrassing.


In desperation, 300 men of Jarrow marched on the government in London, demanding work and a means of earning an honest living:

“In October 1936, a group 200 men from the north-eastern town of Jarrow marched 300 miles to London. They wanted Parliament, and the people in the south, to understand that they were orderly, responsible citizens, but were living in a region where there were many difficulties, and where there was 70 per cent unemployment – leading one of the marchers to describe his home town in those days as '…a filthy, dirty, falling down, consumptive area.'


The men were demanding that a steel works be built to bring back jobs to their town, as Palmer's shipyard in Jarrow had been closed down in the previous year. The yard had been Jarrow's major source of employment, and the closure compounded the problems of poverty, overcrowding, poor housing and high mortality rates that already beset the town.

Ellen Wilkinson, the local MP, later wrote that Jarrow at that time was: '… utterly stagnant. There was no work. No one had a job except a few railwaymen, officials, the workers in the co-operative stores, and a few workmen who went out of the town… the plain fact [is] that if people have to live and bear and bring up their children in bad houses on too little food, their resistance to disease is lowered and they die before they should.' (The Town that was Murdered, 1939)”


The only hope for the whole of  Selebi-Philwe right now  is that some other local or external investors might be found to salvage what is left before the workforce disperses and the town dies a death.   For BCL workers and for workers in every other service and supply industry, their plight is  dire and their future too worrying to contemplate.  Coming only weeks after the rest of the country was ostentatiously celebrating its 50th year of independence, peace and prosperity, its to be wondered what Phikwians made of it all. 

The flame of the Roving Torch should have been extinguished in shame if indeed its organisers were crass enough to carry it into the town – for sure, they had little to celebrate there.  So much for a copper-bottomed future.
STUART WHITE is the Managing Director of HRMC and they can be reached on 395 1640 or at  HYPERLINK "http://www.hrmc.co.bw" www.hrmc.co.bw

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020
Samson

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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‘RO, ‘RO ‘RO YOUR ‘BOT

23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site www.willrobotstakemyjob.com    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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