RUNDU – Disgruntled farm-workers at the under-utilised Uvungu-vhungu Irrigation Project say they receive salaries as low as N$300 per month, have has called on government to intervene to have their wages improved.
Some of the 32 workers at Uvungu-vhungu Irrigation Project, about 10 kilometers east of Rundu, have accused the government of offering salaries, which are hopelessly too low.
Despite government, through the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare being an outspoken advocate of minimum wages in most sectors of the economy, the workers claim that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) through its Uvungu-vhungu Irrigation Project in the Kavango Region is acting contrary to the intention of lawmakers to ensure the well-being of the Namibian workforce.
Workers said employment contracts were supposed to be implemented last year February, as promised by MAWF Minister, John Mutorwa but nothing has come of that promise.
The spokesperson of the workers Seke Simaho told New Era on Tuesday that they do not know whether they are employed temporarily or permanently, because they never signed any employment contract with their employer - which is the government.
“We have even written letters to the President, but nothing has been done,” Simaho said.
“It is rather disturbing that government, tasked to have the interest of the masses at heart, has the audacity to give a salary as little as N$300 to individuals who are expected to provide shelter, education and health for their families in order to survive with respect,” he said.
No one ever thought that a project touted by many as a panacea for unemployment after it was taken over by the state, could subject its workers to appalling working conditions and low salaries.
“My salary is N$400, I have children whom I must feed and still pay for their school, how does the government expect me to fulfill my duties as a parent with a low salary,” asked one of the workers.
It is further alleged that the underpaid employees receive no benefits and their lives are placed at risk because they are not provided with adequate safety clothing.
“We work with poisonous materials and dangerous chemicals, yet we have no masks, gloves or caps,” he said.
New Era also learned that after government took over the project from a private investor in 2009, the workers were promised better salaries and working conditions. However, three years down the line the government has failed dismally to fulfill its promise, the workers claim.
The workers further urged the MAWF to consider dispatching an investigating team to visit the project and to hear the grievances of the workers.
“To make matters worse, we receive our salaries by hand in envelopes,” said the spokesperson. Project manager at Vungu-vhungu, Linus Tashiya, says he can only advise the workers to be patient.
“We are all in the same boat, the previous permanent secretary (Andrew Ndishishi) was pushing for the implementation of the employment contracts. I am not sure how far the new PS is regarding the employment contracts,” Tashiya said.
Tashiya further told New Era that he is not updated on issues regarding the employment conditions of the workers.