Striking workers at the Neckartal dam project have accused the police of siding with their employer the dam construction company Salini to provoke and intimidate them in an attempt to end the strike.
The workers refused to go to work from Monday, locking the main entrance to the project site with a chain and padlock, and barred any vehicles, including trucks carrying supplies for the project, from delivering the needed supplies.
The workers now say the police are provoking and intimidating them, and they are doing so by the “orders of the Salini management”.
The strike which was quiet and peaceful for the first two days got a little tense yesterday when the police demanded that workers open the gate to allow people to enter.
The workers allege that the police arrived at the gate as if they were going to war, as they were armed and ready to harass the workers.
One of the suspended shop stewards, Richard Swartbooi, told New Era that Regional Commander of //Karas Region Commissioner Johannes Tsuseb arrived at the scene, accompanied by armed police officers, and demanded that workers open the gate, and also ordered that workers move about 100 metres away from the main gate.
The workers allegedly agreed to open the gate, but still denied entrance to trucks carrying supplies, as workers stormed and formed human shields in front of any truck attempting to proceed to the site.
“The police commander ordered us to open the gate, but we will not allow any truck to go in, we want production to stop until our demands are met,” Swartbooi said in a telephonic interview.
He condemned police for the way they handled the situation, saying the workers felt disappointed that the police were not being neutral, adding that the workers also felt betrayed, as the police seemed to be siding with Salini management, instead of just making sure order is maintained.
Swartbooi said workers had not been violent and hadn’t destroyed anything during their protest and thus there was no need for the police to act the way they did and show up with guns.
“The police are acting as if we have done something wrong – even the special reserved force is armed, it’s clear they are following the Salini management’s orders,” he said.
Tsuseb however said the police acted in an orderly manner and that the workers had held people hostage, and that some people needed to go to hospital and thus his team could not allow the gate to be locked any longer.
He said the striking workers cannot just detain people with their illegal strike.
Tsuseb further said the police simply asked the workers to open the gate and move away from the gate, adding that the police are not in a position to negotiate with the workers and had thus called on their union to talk to them, while the police wait and do as the law indicates.
“We are not allowed by our Namibian laws to negotiate with striking workers, so we are just waiting for a court interdict and then we will enforce the law accordingly,” he stressed.
Meanwhile the management refused to talk to any of the workers and their shop stewards, telling them to instead go back to work.
The workers vowed to continue their strike, but the company stated that it will today seek a court interdict against the workers should they not stop.