Grape Company Settles Strike

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Four days of intense negotiations at Aussenkehr ended yesterday on a positive note as both the management of Grape Valley Management Company and the Namibia Farm Workers Union reached an amicable solution on all clauses of the Recognition Agreement. The strike ended last night after an estimated 2000 workers had demonstrated in front of the offices of the Grape Valley Management Company over impending retrenchments. Due to financial difficulties within the company, a total of 160 permanent and temporary workers lost their jobs. It was feared that the strike would further disrupt the export of grapes from the country, when it seemed to be reaching crisis levels before it ended peacefully. Early reports seemed to indicate that special police re-enforcements might have had to be called in from Keetmanshoop to Aussenkehr in order to quell any disruptions resulting from the ongoing strike. In an interview with New Era yesterday, the personnel manager of the company, Frederick Conradie, said that the workers have all now returned to work and ways are being found to accommodate the 160 workers back in as seasonal workers. “Both parties will be meeting with the Labour Commissioner on the 29th of this month where we plan to initiate a new project that can look into accommodating the retrenched workers. We will also pay the workers for the time they were striking while we also want concessions from the union as well,” explained Conradie. Prior to this amicable solution, the Aussenkehr Group of Companies and the Namibia Farmworkers Union were locked in negotiations. The talks were mainly based on the restructuring process for economic reasons in accordance with Section 50(1) of the Labour Act, 1992 (Act 6 of 1992). “The basic problem is over the economic reasons for the restructuring and the negotiations are based on the retrenchment packages”, explained Conradie. Although both parties seem to agree on 12 clauses, two of them remain a bone of contention at this point in time. According to a document in New Era’s possession, the disagreement centres on the relocation aspect of workers. “All retrenched employees who intend leaving Aussenkehr permanently will qualify for a one-off cash transport allowance of N$700 to pay for transport for themselves, direct dependants and belongings”, reads of the document. That means that every retrenched worker will receive N$700 from the management company. However, Conradie noted, that the company does not have that amount of money to pay off each worker. Another issue raised was the severance pay package. According to clause 29 of the Recognition Agreement, employees will receive severance allowances calculated on the amount of one week’s remuneration for each completed 12 months employment at the company. The main problem surrounding this scenario is the legal issue, with the union members claiming that clause was illegal, said Conradie in a telephone interview with New Era this week. This remains a disputed amendment to the agreement between the two parties. Yesterday a local daily reported that some workers had been armed with pangas and steel rods when they occupied the offices of personnel manager Conradie. In attempt to find help, the police from Noordoewer were called and they warned the workers that they would not hesitate to use rubber bullets. Yet in a written response to the Aussenkehr Police Station, the Acting Secretary General of NAFWU requested the police not to use rubber bullets against the striking workers and to leave them alone. He rather advised them to first “tell the Aussenkehr management to rectify Clause 29.1.2 of the Recognition Agreement between the union and the company,”