By John Ekongo
The Lev Leviev Diamonds (LLD), a diamond cutting and polishing factory, yesterday opted to suspend indefinitely about 200 diamond processors, mostly young men and women, following hostility between management of the company and the employees.
Following the suspension, the workers are now contemplating a march to State House to protest their grievances.
The workers resorted to an industrial strike yesterday morning after management failed to respond to requests by the workers the previous day. On Tuesday, the striking workers handed a petition to management with hordes of demands that their bosses had to meet – failing which they would strike.
At the core of the hostile labour relations are two senior staff members – general manager, Mike Nesongano, and company lawyer, Richard Muller, whom the workers are not happy with.
The workers accuse Nesongano of being an unfair boss, who uses foul and offensive language when communicating with his juniors.
But what triggered the workers’ action is the Muller factor. According to the company, Muller represents management in most meetings with the workers, thereby serving as the link between workers and their heads.
However, this arrangement does not go down well with the workers as they accuse Muller of not having their interests at heart, but only those of the company.
Besides, the workers are demanding that they be given access to the heads of the company.
A signed letter by management addressed to the branch executive committee (BEC) of the workers and given to the striking employees describes the strike as illegal.
“Please be informed that LLD employees, under your leadership are engaged in illegal strike.
“You have failed to follow the agreed dispute procedures as per our recognition and procedural agreement,” reads the letter.
“Given the actions the employees have resorted to (illegal industrial action) the company is left with no alternative but to suspend you and the employees engaged in this illegal strike with immediate effect,” announced the letter.
The problems at the diamond processing factory are not new. Workers have, on several occasions, accused the management of unfair labour practices, favouritism and low salaries.
New Era is in possession of copies of payslips that show employees earning N$450 a month, after deductions, for a diamond polisher who polished his monthly target of 62 carats of stones. Depending on the size this can be around 100 to 170 stones.
The workers also claim that they receive no transport allowance, housing allowance or any perks compared to foreigners employed in the company who perform the same duties.
Managing Director of LLD Diamonds, Kombadayetu Kap-wanga, dismissed the allegations as untrue. In the company’s defence, Kapwanga argued that the striking workers are in defiance of a recognition and procedural agreement between the company and the Mine Workers Union (MUN).
He said there have been numerous platforms designed for the BEC to bring forward their grievances but they have never used the opportunities.
“Workers don’t want to talk to the company,” opined Kapwanga in a telephonic interview with New Era.
He cited as an example, a meeting that was to take place on Wednesday but did not materialise as the BEC refused to attend the meeting because of the presence of Muller.
Kapwanga said this is an indication of the defiance of the workers.
On the allegation of unfair treatment Kapwanga said, “They might be true but they must tell us, that is why we are saying let us talk. We did not say, lets not talk, no! But if you walk out of the meeting how do we talk to find out if it is true or not?” queried Kapwanga.
According to Kapwanga, the company is set to proceed with disciplinary hearings against the striking workers and there will be no second chances to the striking employees.
Jonas Lumbu, Assistant General Secretary at MUN described the situation as unfortunate.
Lumbu explained that the workers have to make peace with the fact that Muller is mandated by the company to represent it at meetings.
“Even the Labour Act says that each party must have eight people, without necessarily attesting what they should be.”
He blamed the workers for not informing his office about the strike.
As for the way forward, Lumbu maintained that he is busy consulting his superior MUN President, Andries Eiseb, about the situation.
“I am trying to brief the president, but as for now we have to wait and see,” said Lumbu.