14 Jul 2016 16:50pm
WALVIS BAY, 14 JUL (NAMPA) - The scarcity of pilchards and the reduction of their 2015 fishing quota forced United Fishing Enterprises to not renew the employment contracts of 680 seasonal factory workers.
The workers contracts ended in August 2015 after the cannery closed as the company did not catch enough fish.
Some of the workers, who demonstrated on Wednesday, however claim that they were not informed that their contracts were terminated and say they only found out when they showed up for work in April this year.
United Fishing General Manager Richard Ahrens on Wednesday said the reduction in pilchard numbers is due to fish migration from the Namibian waters to Angolan waters.
He said they did not fully utilise their 25 000 Metric Tonne (MT) quota because of bad weather.
The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources reduced the quota to 14 000 MT of which 4 000 was put in reserve because after conducting research they found out there was not enough fish.
We have been operating vessels without landing any fish. Nobody should be blamed for job losses, but a lack of resources put us in a corner. We cannot keep workers without salaries, Ahrens told the media after receiving a petition from the employees.
President of the Namibia Seamen and Allied Workers Union (Nasawu) Paulus Hango said workers were not informed that they will not start work as expected in April this year.
The petition alleges that they only came to find out of this development after they came to the factory.
Hango said it is not good that United Fishing took their catches to be processed at Etosha Fishing instead of processing it themselves so employees could keep their jobs.
They got the quota because of these employees now they take it to Etosha, where Etosha employees are still working. Why did they not just keep the factory open, Hango asked.
The unionist said in the future they will insist that those who do not build factories on land should not get quotas.
Factories create jobs and that is very important in this industry, Hango said.
Ahrens responded that the decision to have their catch processed at Etosha was to save the business and the jobs of 122 permanent employees.
He said due to the fact that the catches are poor, he decided to team up with Etosha who are also in the same situation so that they can complement each other by sharing vessels and workforce.
He noted that they have vessels but Etosha is able to catch fish in areas United cannot reach, so they gave the vessels to Etosha to catch and process the fish for them.
Ahrens said it is not true that he did not communicate to the employees that there will be no employment this year.
He said even if he did not speak to everyone because some of them were in the northern regions, he spoke to those who were around and communicated the news on the radio.
He thanked the fisheries ministry for conserving marine resources by cutting and giving limited quotas, noting that this is not to penalise anybody, but to ensure that the fish population stays safe.
The general manager also stated that things are tough as he has been losing permanent qualified employees through resignation.
He said there are currently 14 permanent vacant posts after people resigned as they feared that they would lose their jobs due to the poor catches.
Ahrens said the situation has left him concerned about where he will get specialised employees such as autoclave operators and simmer mechanics, as there are not many such specialists in the country.
He hopes to, as soon as the resources are available and business strengthens again, give his employees back their jobs.