‘One Cent a Brick’

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By Surihe Gaomas UIS Employees at a brick-making factory at Uis are up in arms over their pay which they claim is meagre and of absolutely no use. Barely two months after Clay Brick Manufacturing Plant started, employees bitterly complain that they are being exploited – having to earn one cent for every brick produced. The majority of the 35 workers are women. The workforce is expected to produce no less than 40 000 bricks per day over a normal eight-hour working shift, including Saturday. As co-owner of the brick project Piet van Rooyen warmly welcomed this reporter, the workers complained about their wages. This newspaper learned that over the past two months, more workers opted to stay at home instead of working for one cent. Van Rooyen distanced himself from the labour related problems, saying that this was in the hands of the labour contractor. Later, co-manger of Balcon Labour Hire and Consultants Conrad Brandt explained that his company was acting in the interest of the workers although the one cent per brick sounds minimal. “It’s a bit confidential but it is market related. It’s not that much little. It’s a fair amount when looking at what you get at the end of the month,” said the 30-year-old man from Uis. Although workers say this represents exploitation of human labour, Brandt felt that this was not the case. Brandt said each worker at the end of the day, depending on the amount of pellets packed earns N$33. Both Van Rooyen and Brandt agree that the situation might change for the better as soon as the company penetrates the market outside Uis where they hope their products will earn more. “Swakopmund, Walvis Bay and Omaruru are the biggest markets so far. Although we only up to now produced 1,2 million bricks, we hope our sales target will increase so that our situation can change. We are still in the beginning stages,” explained Van Rooyen. Asked why the workers did not have protective clothing, Brandt said they provided aprons and disposable masks in the beginning, but these were discarded because the workers were not used to wearing such outfits. He however assured New Era that from today, all employees will be issued with new clothing. “I have already ordered this clothing from a well known clothing factory in Arandis and hopefully it will be here by tomorrow (Friday),” he said. Some workers complained that they were being paid peanuts for hard labour. “My joints and elbows are very sore. These bricks are not easy to carry,” said one woman as she took four bricks from the conveyor belt, walking two meters to the pellet where she has to stack them. “It is really hard work my dear and I only get N$495 at the end of the month and that depends on how fast I can work,” said another, adding that the salary cannot meet the daily household expenditures. “We are very grateful for the job, but at the end of the day, we feel exploited,” said one man as he packed the pellet of bricks in the sun for the baking process. New Era also ran into the first employees who left their jobs after only a month. A 31-year-old man said the work was too labour intensive and the money too little. Another one said: “When I heard about the job, I came to register immediately since I’m jobless. They told us that we would be getting N$35 per day as a fixed amount, but later to my surprise, this was brought down to N$25 per day and later to one cent per brick. I can’t work something like that,” he said looking disappointed. Community members also complained about the bad smell that comes from the new brick factory. It turns out that this odour comes from the slime sand used for making the bricks. Previously, when the mine was in operation, highly poisonous potassium cyanide was used to extract tin from the ore. Now residents complain that the people working on the bricks with bare hands could be prone to skin disorders and other health problems. New Era learnt that labour inspectors from Swakopmund also visited the new factory. The Uis Village Council and the labour inspectors are expected to tackle these problems together with the plant management in the near future.