Four thousand fishermen have threatened to go on an all-out strike that could cripple the lucrative marine fishing industry.
Fishermen claim that they are paid a pittance despite working long hours, and that salary disparities are rife. This while fishing companies rake in millions for the government and for the fishing companies.
They now want President Hage Geingob to look into the state of affairs before October 26, or they will engage in an all-out strike that may have devastating consequences for the industry.
On Friday, about 1 300 seamen met with the Governor of the Erongo Region, Cleophas Mutjavikua, in a fully packed Kuisebmond Community Hall, to air their grievances. They cited low wages, lack of benefits such as medical aid, working hours that do not comply with the Labour Act, and exploitation as some of their grievances.
Many still live in shacks, despite working their fingers to the bone for the fishing companies. Speaking on behalf of the fishermen, Immanuel Petrus said most of them work on vessels without medical aid provision and when they get sick, are only given tablets by the captain.
Only after four days can they be airlifted to seek medical assistance. But about 100 of the seamen present at the meeting said they have medical aid coverage.
According to Petrus, seamen work like slaves while it is a known fact that fish, a renewable resource, belongs to all: “Look at our living conditions, we live in shacks, our salaries are so poor that we cannot even afford to ask for a bank loan. We make about N$6 per hour, while we generate about N$11 000 per hour for fishing companies. We work non-stop for three days, like slaves on the vessels, yet we have nothing to show for it.”
He added that they are sick and tired of being exploited and government turning a blind eye. “We want better living conditions and want to benefit from our resources. We also want to know who got quotas and how social responsibility is being catered for. If our demands are not met by 26 October, the fish must rest in the sea. We are willing to go to prison if our demands are not met,” Petrus charged.
He said government has allowed them to work illegally for fishing companies. “Apparently we should get recognition agreements and employment contracts so that our working conditions be sorted out,” said Petrus.
Mutjavikua told the seamen the government is aware of their plight, saying they have a good case but should make sure that they follow the correct procedures and channels. Mutjavikua also told them that he would meet with stakeholders this week.
He was also expected to meet with Vice-President Nickey Iyambo over the weekend to brief him about the situation.
He urged the seamen not to engage in any illegal strike and also not to give ultimatums, as the situation needs intense assessment.