WALVIS BAY, 30 OCT (NAMPA) -
Members of NAFAU who are participating in an illegal strike which started in Walvis Bay and Lüderitz this week have been advised to return to work. The acting Secretary-General of the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU), Jacob Penda made the call during a telephonic interview with Nampa on Thursday.
"We all know the consequence of illegal industrial action is dismissal. NAFAU supports workers' demands but we do not support illegal strikes. The employers wrote to us, so they must go back to work while we collectively attend to their demands," he said.
More than 1 000 fishermen from various companies at Walvis Bay and about 250 in Lüderitz downed tools on Monday demanding better salaries, overtime payment and medical care at sea. The illegal strike is being led by the Namibia National Labour Organisation (Nanlo) and affiliate Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction (MMMC) Union.
Some complained of misrepresentation by their respective unions and indicated that they want to withdraw their membership from NAFAU, but the union refused to let them go as the employers are still deducting membership fees.
In response, Penda said the issue of better employment conditions has been receiving attention and that some companies such as Erongo Marine have already implemented these new measures.
"We have negotiated for better employment conditions that were never there before such as pension, basic salary, medical aid, overtime payment, as well as to be paid on weekends and public holidays," he said.
He denied forcing workers who want to leave the union to remain with them, saying they should follow the right procedures to do so. "We do not deduct directly from their salaries and if they want to cancel, the employers should be able to do so; we cannot stop them," he said.
Penda told this news agency the union and the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations (CNFA) discussed and agreed with employers that there should be three hours paid overtime per day, 11 hours of work and 10 hours of resting at sea.
He explained that in principle, employers agreed to these conditions and more, so it is just a matter of time before they are implemented.
He noted that the matter has been submitted to the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation. Penda said the Permanent Secretary in the labour ministry, Bro Mathew Shingwandja, is expected to give final feedback next week on when and how such conditions will be implemented.
"Allegations that NAFAU have a fishing quota are not true. I urge MMMC and NANLO to stop misinforming workers because unions are here to give workers the right information," Penda noted.
He also said MMMC does not have a legal agreement with any company to bargain for workers, thus associating with them, especially during an illegal strike, is 'dangerous'.
"We have also picked up that the workers are being threatened by some people who say that if they go back to work, they will be killed. That should not be the case in a democratic country because they have a choice to strike or not," said the unionist.
Shingwandja could not be reached for comment as he was out of office on official duty. On his part, MMMC's regional organiser in Erongo and spokesperson of the striking workers, Immanuel Petrus maintained that the workers are misrepresented and that the strike will continue until they get feedback.
"We will not listen to what NAFAU is saying. It took me almost two years to convince the workers that we are being robbed by the companies and now that the action is here they want to say they have been dealing with the matter," he responded.
Speaking from Lüderitz, Petrus said the issue is a national concern that requires no recognition agreement from a union like MMMC to intervene.
"As long as we are a registered union, we can stand up on these issues. NAFAU should know that they do not have fishermen as members anymore. People have left them, it is just a matter of time before it becomes formal," he said.