Seamen in tug-of-war over wage agreement

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Walvis Bay

After lengthy deliberations a number of recognised trade unions on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations in Swakopmund to improve the wages and “slave-like working conditions” of seamen.

The Namibia National Labour Organisation (Nanlo) and its affiliate, the Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction (MMMC) were not part of the consultations and rejected the MoU, saying no decisions can be made without the union that represents the majority of seamen.

Addressing the media yesterday morning in Kuisebmond, Immanuel Petrus, who represents the hundreds of seamen on strike over low pay, said they would continue to strike, as those who deliberated on the MoU addressed none of the grievances of the workers.

“How do they know about our employment conditions if they did not consult us?” he asked.
This agreement would make Namibia the first ever country in the world to pay seamen overtime and it must be implemented within three months by the fishing industry, specifically to address the working conditions of workers at sea.

The agreement was signed by the Confederation, Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), Namibia Seamen and Allied Workers Union (Nasawu), as well as the Namibia Fishing Industry and Fishery Workers Union (NFI&FWU).

According to the MOU, seamen must be paid overtime and commission, depending on each company and their specific agreements. The parties also agreed that all seamen would be paid for ordinary hours, over-time, Sundays and public holidays.

The seamen will in future be allowed a minimum of 10 hours rest during the 24-hour working cycle while at sea and also a six percent night allowance for each hour worked between 20h00 and 07h00.

According to the permanent secretary in the labour ministry, Bro-Mathew Shingwandja, the signing of the MoU is a clear indication that the parties involved were not distracted by the ongoing strike, as they managed to reach a mutual understanding that would benefit the affected workers.

Secretary general of the NUNW Job Muniaro, who was also present at the signing, said he is happy that the MoU has been formally agreed to. “It was very interesting for me that we managed to solve problems that were created by others. We have people that can really maintain peace and stability,” he said.

About 1 000 fishermen in Walvis Bay and 250 in Lüderitz downed tools on October 26, citing unfair labour practices, maltreatment and being poorly paid as the main reasons for resorting to industrial action.

The disgruntled seamen and their union representatives also travelled to Windhoek last week to meet with President Hage Geingob, in a bid to have their grievances addressed.

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