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Labour | Economy - Development

"Slave conditions" in Namibia's fish industry

Misanet / The Namibian, 1 September - The Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU) has condemned alleged unfair labour practices in the pelagic industry, claiming that sea-going workers were being marginalised like slaves. Especially the no-work-no-pay contracts for black workers were an ill in the Namibian fisheries industry.

In a statement issued by the trade union's regional office at Walvis Bay, the Regional Organiser, Cleopas Ngwena alleges that sea-going employees do not enjoy the same recognition as other employees in the industry. Mr Ngwena said workers were forced to sign a no-work-no-pay contract drafted by the companies without their input.

According to the union official, this is illegal in terms of Namibia's Labour Act as a contract of employment has to be discussed and agreed upon by both the employer and employee. He further said it was illegal to employ permanent workers on this type of contract.

Mr Ngwena charged that the no-work, no-pay contract only applied to black workers, while white workers received a full salary under all circumstances. Further complaints raised in the statement address benefits, overtime and basic salary.

The Namibian union claims sea-going workers do not get benefits, such as housing and transport allowances and medical aid. They are not paid overtime for night shifts and work on public holidays, and they are only paid commission and no basic salary.

The union listed 11 demands in the statement. They want equal and fair treatment like employees working in factories - a basic salary plus commission, and that the no-work-no-pay contract be discontinued as a matter of urgency.

The rest of the demands concern smaller issues, such as the discontinuation of deductions for food and clothing and the payment of salaries at the end of the month. "We have explored all avenues to discuss these problems with the Chairperson of the Pelagic Association, but in vain. The workers' plight is falling on deaf ears," said Mr Ngwena.

When contacted for comment, Denise van Bergen, Chairperson of the Pelagic Association of Namibia, told 'The Namibian' no discussion or formal correspondence had so far taken place with NAFAU. She said Mr Ngwena had only asked her about the payment of commissions, which she had explained to him.

- The industry has agreed to use one commission rate, and that is the only standard in place in the industry, said Ms van Bergen. "The commission system has been in place since the 1940s."

Ms van Bergen said each company had its own arrangements with workers regarding other benefits. She said the policy of the association was to only deal with unions that had 50 + 1 percent membership in the industry.

- We can only speak to the union and not negotiate as we are not an employer, according to Ms van Bergen. There are about four unions and none had more than 50 percent membership, she added.

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