WALVIS BAY – Over a thousand fish factory workers staged a protest during the lunch hour last week Wednesday in Walvis Bay, demanding the implementation of a minimum wage in the fishing, retail and hotel industries.
The workers expressed anger over the fact that no minimum wage exists in the fisheries sector, despite the fact that the sector is among the biggest contributors to the country’s economy. The fisheries sector employs about 13 000 workers in the country. Yet, some of the workers take home as little as N$1 800 in monthly wages, barely enough to make ends meet.
To highlight this and many other difficulties facing workers in the fisheries sector, the workers handed over a petition to the senior regional labour officer in the Erongo Region, Nelson Muhepa. In the petition they demand that a third party review the conciliation and arbitration judgments before they reach the High Court. According to the workers only judges should deal with labour cases, while conciliators should not arbitrate, since that may pose a conflict of interest.
The majority of the workers who took part in the protest action are members of the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU) and Namibia Fishing Industries (NFI) and Fisherman Workers Union (FWU).
Reading the petition on behalf of the factory workers, Justus Hamwaama said temporary workers should be employed as permanent workers after at least 6 years of casual employment.
“Companies must also pay their employees at least two thirds of their salaries during the one month closure as the workers cannot afford to use their leave days,” Hamwaama said. He went on to say that the Labour Act in its current form has failed to address the rights and interests of workers in many respects. “It must be amended to be a living document, which addresses our socio-economic and contemporary issues affecting them on a daily basis,” he explained. The factory workers also accuse the government of amending some parts of the Labour Act deliberately in order to protect employers and demanded that the Act be amended, since it contains serious loopholes that need to be closed before it is too late. “We also want the night allowance to be changed from the current 6 percent to 10 percent as the 6 percent is too little. Sundays must be paid double irrespective of what hours employees worked since Sunday is not a normal day,” Hamwaama said speaking on behalf of the workers. He further said annual leave days, which are 23 should be increased to 30 days irrespective of the days worked in a year; compassionate leave days should be increased to 10 days from the current five days and that uncles and cousins also be taken into account when workers apply for compassionate leave. According to the workers maternity leave should also be increased from the current three months to six months.