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Companies feeling COVID-19 job nausea

Information gathered by this publication is that some local companies are now crying foul as the pressure that hit business activities around the world after the global declaration of the covid-19 pandemic, shutting down of borders and resultant lockdowns around many economies.

With lockdown came State of Emergency, companies and government seem to have imbibed the clarity of the ‘Emergency Powers (COVID-19)’ which pronounced that, “businesses will not be able to retrench or dismiss workers during the COVID-19 State of Emergency.”

However, WeekendPost has been receiving information showing that companies are already feeling nauseated by Emergency Powers in its second month. The companies claim that covid-19 financial impact signs are already showing on them, and they are showing symptoms of vomiting jobs out.

One of the first symptoms would be a letter written by Lucara mine partner Trollope Botswana to workers, a recent notice asking for a dialogue with employees regarding a planned or imminent retrenchment.  Trollope Botswana was engaging its workers on a “Retrenchment Package” before “finalising the exit package for retrenched employees.”

However, this seems to be not proximal to the 21th March 2020 Tripartite agreement entered between the Government of Botswana, Business Botswana and Trade Unions, which was against any form of laying off employers or cutting of jobs.

In another case which could lead to a company spillage of jobs, close to 300 jobs held by the South African clothing retail company Edcon, hangs on uncertainty as the owner of Jet and Edgars is waiting for a white knight investor as it is on the brink of collapse.  Edcon has been in business for nearly 90 years and is operational across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Ghana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The dreadful axe of retrenchment, especially in the job insecurity laden private sector, is facing 22 000 Edcon workers in South Africa. Last year, Edcon Spokesperson confirmed to this publication that anything that affects South African shops will come down on its 30 Botswana stores.

That was the time when Botswana jobs hung in balance in March of last year, before Edcon was bailed out with R2.7 billion. But this year, Edcon is pressed face down with more than P2 billion in debt and is currently suffering from a lockdown hangover from the Botswana and South African economies.

Botswana Federation of Public Private and Parastatal Sector Unions (BOFEPUSU) told WeekendPost that it has received grievances of the concerned workers at Edgars and other retailers. BOFEPUSUS calls this “a sad situation.”

Another case for BOFEPUSU regarding cut of jobs, which the federation refers to as “untidy, un-procedural and unethical” ongoing retrenchment is at Ericsson Botswana.

In a letter seen by this publication written on 25 May 2020, BOFEPUSU says the workers at Ericsson Botswana had tried to compromise by negotiating down their salaries fearing loss of their jobs but the company was not willing to give an ear. Workers wanted to know the validity of retrenchment and even asked information on the company financial performance to substantiate reasons for retrenchment, but that was concealed.

According to Motshegwa, Ericsson Botswana was reported to Commission of Labour. The federation said it was concerned by the increasing number of retrenchments in the country, “most of which are reckless and not genuine and the whole problem is that workers are thrown to unemployment and poverty.’’

“We are witnessing a situation where many employees are being retrenched, and acts of unfair labour practices in the workplace. We have written to the Permanent Secretary and Minister of Employment Productivity and Skills , for a tripartite meeting of social partners (Government, Business Botswana, Federations) to meet and seriously address the issue of ongoing massive retrenchments , which is sad because employees are being condemned to abject poverty and misery.

There is rising unemployment particularly among the youth and this is becoming a national security, as more and more youth roam the streets frustrated,” said BOFEPUSU Deputy Secretary General, Ketlhalefile Motshegwa in an interview.

Motshegwa said workers in the private sector remain vulnerable as there is limited job security and “grave violation of workers’ rights.”

Most private sectors are not unionized according to Motshegwa and in case of Edcon or other workers, the federation is taking their labour issues or cases in ‘pro bono’ basis.  However the federation is working on a “strategy to mobilise these workers for unionisation, establishment of industrial councils, crafting of decent minimum standards with regard to employees conditions of service and welfare, and pursuit of workers friendly labour laws and policies,” said Motshegwa.

Motshegwa talked of a call for Unemployment Insurance Fund, calling it as part of progressive policies that shall address the issue of employment creation and social protection towards social justice.

WeekendPost also received general complaints by workers who got half salaries or were not paid at all despite working for companies who received full wage subsidies from government’s P30 million chunk.

According to the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan released this week, government has already implemented a number of short-term economic and fiscal measures designed to stabilise the economy and provide short-term relief to affected sectors and households.

According to the document some of these measures include, “wage subsidies for 3 months for workers in firms adversely affected by COVID-19.” Government also brought a provision for deferment of profit taxes payable by firms.

But one company, Johnson Crane Hire claims to have been left out of subsidies, according to a letter seen by WeekendPost. The letter notified workers of a review of their April salaries because of “financial distress” which could lead to the company failing to “maintain business continuation” hence the cutting down of salaries.

The Tripartite agreement entered between the Government of Botswana, Business Botswana and Trade Unions allows, “employers and employees continuous dialogue in good faith on the matter to deal with emerging issues.”

According to the tripartite agreement signed two months ago, there is a provision for negotiations of arrangements such as Johnson Crane Hire and its workers, but “in good faith.” BOFEPUSU is currently observing the case of Johnson Crane Hire employees with keen interest to see if fairness or good faith prevails.

Business

Matsheka seeks raise bond program ceiling to P30 billion

14th September 2020
Dr Matsheka

This week Minister of Finance & Economic Development, Dr Thapelo Matsheka approached parliament seeking lawmakers approval of Government’s intention to increase bond program ceiling from the current P15 Billion to P30 billion.

“I stand to request this honorable house to authorize increase in bond issuance program from the current P15 billion to P30 billion,” Dr Matsheka said. He explained that due to the halt in economic growth occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic government had to revisit options for funding the national budget, particularly for the second half of the National Development Plan (NDP) 11.

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Business

Lucara sits clutching onto its gigantic stones with bear claws in a dark pit

14th September 2020
Lesedi La Rona

Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) has this week revealed a gloomy picture of diamond mining newcomer, Lucara, with its stock devaluated and its entire business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

A BSE survey for a period between 1st January to 31st August 2020 — recording the second half of the year, the third quarter of the year and five months of coronavirus in Botswana — shows that the Domestic Company Index (DCI) depreciated by 5.9 percent.

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Botswana Diamonds issues 50 000 000 shares to raise capital

14th September 2020
Diamonds

Botswana Diamond PLC, a diamond exploration company trading on both London Stock Exchange Alternative Investment Market (AIM) and Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) on Monday unlocked value from its shares to raise capital for its ongoing exploration works in Botswana and South Africa.

A statement from the company this week reveals that the placing was with existing and new investors to raise £300,000 via the issue of 50,000,000 new ordinary shares at a placing price of 0.6p per Placing Share.

Each Placing Share, according to Botswana Diamond Executives has one warrant attached with the right to subscribe for one new ordinary share at 0.6p per new ordinary share for a period of two years from, 7th September 2020, being the date of the Placing Warrants issue.

In a statement Chairman of Botswana Diamonds, John Teeling explained that the funds raised will be used to fund ongoing exploration activities during the current year in Botswana and South Africa, and to provide additional working capital for the Company.

The company is currently drilling kimberlite M8 on the Marsfontein licence in South Africa and has generated further kimberlite targets which will be drilled on the adjacent Thorny River concession.

In Botswana, the funds will be focused on commercializing the KX36 project following the recent acquisition of Sekaka Diamonds from Petra Diamonds. This will include finalizing a work programme to upgrade the grades and diamond value of the kimberlite pipe as well as investigating innovative mining options.

Drilling is planned for the adjacent Sunland Minerals property and following further assessment of the comprehensive Sekaka database more drilling targets are likely. “This is a very active and exciting time for Botswana Diamonds. We are drilling the very promising M8 kimberlite at Marsfontein and further drilling is likely on targets identified on the adjacent Thorny River ground,” he said.

The company Board Chair further noted, “We have a number of active projects. The recently acquired KX36 diamond resource in the Kalahari offers great potential. While awaiting final approvals from the Botswana authorities some of the funds raised will be used to detail the works we will do to refine grade, size distribution and value per carat.”

In addition BOD said the Placing Shares will rank pari passu with the Company’s existing ordinary shares. Application will be made for the Placing Shares to be admitted to trading on AIM and it is expected that such admission will become effective on or around 23 September 2020.

Last month Botswana Diamond announced that it has entered into agreement with global miner Petra Diamonds to acquire the latter’s exploration assets in Botswana. Key to these assets, housed under Sekaka Diamonds, 100 % subsidiary of Petra is the KX36 Diamond discovery, a high grade ore Kimberlite pipe located in the CKGR, considered Botswana’s next diamond glory after the magnificent Orapa and prolific Jwaneng Mines.

The acquisition entailed two adjacent Prospecting Licences and a diamond processing plant. Sekaka has been Petra’s exploration vehicle in Botswana for year and holds three Prospecting Licenses in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve (Kalahari) PL169/2019, PL058/2007 and PL224/2007, which includes the high grade KX36 kimberlite pipe.

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