Workers Demand Their Problems be Solved

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By Frederick Philander OKAHANDJA The entire diamond workforce except for seven employees of Namgem at Okahandja staged a demonstration on Friday for a few hours. The workforce is now threatening to strike if their grievances are not addressed within the next two weeks. This ultimatum was given on Friday during a peaceful demonstration outside the gates of the diamond-polishing company where a petition was handed over to the Namdeb management, of which Namgem is a subsidiary. In the absence of the plant manager, Elifas Hauwala, who is presently on leave, the workers vehemently refused to hand the petition over to the factory’s Human Resource Officer, Angelika de Klerk, who is the acting general manager. In a written statement the local branch of the Mine Workers Union of Namibia (MUN) raised its concerns over an alleged ‘unholy’ and unworkable agreement between Namdeb and the Okahandja State Hospital. “Our concerns are perpetuated by poor and unfair labour relations within Namgem, poor employment conditions, an un-conducive working environment and unlawful agreements entered into without the consent of the workers,” the chairman of the local MUN branch, Moses Hartmann, read out on behalf of the workers from the document that was later accepted by Namdeb’s chief communications officer, Hilifa Mbako. The Namgem workers expressed concern about sick leave for female workers, the inadequate provisions of the Diamonds Act, the refusal of compassionate leave, work absenteeism and recognition of union shop stewards. “When the company’s working mothers are booked off from work they are required by Namgem to use their unpaid leave or their occasional leave days. Furthermore, it is clear that the country’s Diamond Act is not properly understood by many of our employers, as a result of which workers often become victims of circumstances. We call on the country’s law-makers to amend the Diamond Act to be more user-friendly especially by the diamond polishing companies,” the petition further stated. According to Hartmann, workers often become victims if diamonds are missing or miscalculated. “The working conditions at Namgem are not conducive. We call on the Managing Director at Namdeb to effect changes to both company policies and the employment conditions of workers to avail equal opportunities to all Namgem employees regardless of skin colour or creed,” the petition stated and also referred to working overtime during which workers are reportedly allowed no breaks. It is further claimed that workers are being punished and penalized for not coming to work even when they have valid reasons. “Failure by Namgem to address our demands and concerns within the next two weeks will result in the union taking drastic action against the company,” the petition warned the factory management. The peaceful demonstration started early on Friday morning in front of the gates of the factory under the watchful eyes of the local police. The singing, chanting and toi-toing workers later proceeded to the local hospital to hand over another strongly-worded petition to the hospital superintendent. “The existing agreement between Namgem and the Okahandja State Hospital is an unlawful one because the employees’ interests were not presented; there is clearly discrimination within the agreement, something we demand from the hospital to be stopped immediately,” said senior shop steward, Eben Zarondo, when he handed over the petition to the superintendent at the gates of the hospital, witnessed by the workers. According to Hartmann, his branch management has taken a decision to recommend that the seven workers be suspended from the union. “These seven workers who went to work during the demonstration have weakened our bargaining power and should thus be suspended. We will be patiently waiting to see what the management comes up with in the next two weeks before we take action against Namgem,” Hartmann told New Era. All the workers returned later to their work stations at Namgem.