The illegal strike of about 1 250 seamen at Walvis Bay and Lüderitz has been described as a very risky action that would have far-reaching financial implications not only for the seamen but for the entire country. The fishing industry is said to be already feeling the impact of the crippling industrial action.
The Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Bernard Esau, yesterday warned that the strike, in its 10th day, could result in job losses which in turn could exacerbate poverty and unemployment.
The seamen, who despite being discouraged by the fisheries ministry to strike, on Tuesday went to Windhoek where they are trying to meet President Hage Geingob.
Sources yesterday said that some companies have already set the ball rolling by weighing their options in terms of replacing some of the striking seamen, as most of the companies are expected to send out to sea their fishing vessels by early next week.
More than 1 000 fishermen from various companies at Walvis Bay and about 250 in Lüderitz downed tools last week Monday demanding better salaries, overtime payment and medical care at sea.
The illegal strike is being led by the Namibia National Labour Organisation (Nanlo), an affiliate of the Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction Union (MMMC). On the other hand, unions recognised by the fishing industry, such as the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), Namibia Seamen and Allied Workers Union (Nasawu) and Namibia Fishing Industries & Fisherman Workers Union (NFI) have strongly objected to the strike.
“This is indeed sad news for the country and the families of the seamen. We are approaching the festive season and they – the seamen – are depriving themselves of much needed income,” said Esau.
He added that people should realize that the country faces widespread poverty and unemployment, and is trying by all means to secure income and create jobs.
He stressed his disappointment: “Here we have people on an illegal strike.”
He urged the striking workers to return to work and consult with their employers through recognised trade unions, and tackle issues within the existing legal framework.
“We have a law that was promulgated which says that if you are not satisfied with the conditions of your service of employment, talk to your employers. If no solution is reached then declare a dispute. There are procedures that need to be followed – you cannot just withhold your labour without declaring a dispute.”
From an economic point of view, he said, the fishing industry itself and consumers of their products are already feeling the effects of the illegal strike.
“The availability of fish, and their prices, are already feeling the impact due to the artificial shortages caused by the irresponsible action of the seamen. I consulted with the industry on Monday and they indicated they are experiencing problems with international markets,” he said.
According to him, the illegal strike has opened up opportunities for other fishing countries to take up Namibia’s market share.
“For you to come back into the market to claim your share will cost you money. Overall job losses are inevitable and this is one of the issues we don’t want to see happening,” Esau said.
Matti Amukwa, the chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations, said the illegal strike would definitely have a negative impact on the fishing industry.
“Most of the seamen should have been at work – it is only the guys from the pelagic sector that are still on holiday,” said Amukwa, adding that the industry has been consulting on the matter and would definitely take steps against the illegally striking seamen.
“We are just going to follow the law. We live in a country that is regulated by laws. Each and every company has its own policy on how to deal with this action taken by the seamen. It is sad that they resorted to such action as they will definitely feel the consequences,” said Amukwa.