Train drivers and their assistants downed tools on Tuesday at TransNamib’s Walvis Bay depot, citing slave-like salaries, insufficient insurance policies and the absence of danger allowance.
By yesterday afternoon the strike had spread to other towns, with more train drivers and assistants joining in the action. TransNamib hit back yesterday saying the strike is illegal, because it was not approved by the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (NATAU), which has a recognition agreement with TransNamib.
High ranking officials at the already financially crippled parastatal scrambled around yesterday to convince the drivers to return to work so that operations at mines and other facilities are not affected by their industrial action.
However, the train drivers said they have quit membership of NATAU and have now joined Evilastus Kaaronda’s union, the Namibian National Labour Organisation (NANLO).
They accuse TransNamib of refusing to recognise NANLO as their legitimate representative union.
Yesterday TransNamib hinted it might approach the Labour Court on an urgent basis to seek a court interdict to stop the strike. It also threatened to ask the police to remove any union official or striking employees from its premises.
“In any event and in so far as it may be necessary that all the employees at all the stations and places of employment of the company be interdicted and restrained from withholding their services and participating in any planned unlawful strike or industrial action,” read an internal memorandum by Mike Wamunyima, the acting executive for human capital at TransNamib.
In a statement issued late yesterday TransNamib spokesperson Struggle Ihuhua said NATAU is the only recognised union representative of TransNamib employees and is also recognised by the labour commissioner.
He cautioned that staff members, who are instigating or participating in the illegal strike, would attract serious charges, which if found guilty of, would amount to a dismissible offence.
“We would like to state in no uncertain terms that salaries and all other related fringe benefits are dealt with in terms of our existing recognition agreement with the recognised union, NATAU, through a negotiated process between TransNamib and NATAU on an annual basis,” Ihuhua said.
He called on the striking workers to “return to work and raise their concerns through the existing channels and in line with our company policies and procedures.”
However, the 26 drivers, who did not receive any salary increment this year, said that they would not go back until the company agrees to improve their “pathetic salaries and slave-like working conditions.”
According to the train drivers, they are delivering an essential service, but their salaries are not market-related.
“Some of us have worked for TransNamib for 33 years and are earning a mere N$11 000, a salary equivalent to what some mining companies pay their cleaners. We are forced to work at least 14 hours so that we can get overtime, even if it means spending less time with our families,” said one of the train drivers.
“We have asked management on numerous occasions to offer us better salaries, but to no avail. We are afraid to be booked off, as we might lose our houses and cars. If we get injured we have to pay out of our pockets first, as health facilities are reluctant to help us, as their medical bills are not settled on time.” Another said he was recently booked off for a month and was left with only N$2 500 after his house and car payments were deducted from his salary.
“It pains me to see that I have to retire in four years and I have nothing to show for it,” said the driver.