Desert Fruit Farm
The management of Desert Fruit Namibia says salary increment demands being made by the farmworkers are impossible to meet at the moment, as the company is operating at a loss.
Managing director of Desert Fruit Johannes Van der Walt explained to the demonstrating workers on Friday that their demands cannot be met, as the company is still struggling to break even, meaning they are operating at a loss and have no money for huge salary increments.
The workers, who refused to return to work on Thursday and Friday last week, handed over a petition to the management during a peaceful demonstration on Friday. In the petition, read by shopsteward Thimoteus Shashipapo, workers demanded a salary adjustment of N$30 per day, which amounts a N$600 monthly increment for all workers, while they also want their housing allowance to be increased from the current N$100 to N$400.
The workers further claimed they are insulted and treated unfairly and do not have any platform to air their grievances, as they are always threatened and live in constant fear of their jobs whenever they complain of the management’s mistreatment of farmworkers.
“We are insulted and seen like dogs at this farm and our work is not valued as we are paid peanuts,” they said. They further demanded an apology from the company, saying management does not respect the workers nor upholds the country’s labour laws and indicated that whenever the workers speak against the maltreatment they are told to pack and go, as there are many people looking for work.
Receiving the petition, Van der Walt told the workers that their demands are excessive and the company is in not in a financial position to meet those demands, as it could lead to bankruptcy. “As MD of this company it’s my duty to make sure the company continues and if I pay out such kind of money then the company collapses and we will all not be here in the end,” he said.
The company is apparently still not making a profit, despite being in existence for about 10 years. Giving a counter letter from the company’s lawyers to the workers, he briefly explained that the company could only make such payments if half of the workers are retrenched.
“Our operational cost is about N$30 million and our turnover is about N$20 million, so how can we pay you more?” he asked, much to the dismay of the demonstrating workers. He insisted the strike was illegal and the workers could be held responsible for any losses incurred during the period of work stoppage.
Although the workers on Friday vowed to withdraw their labour until their demands are met, they returned to work on Monday after consultations with their union.
The farm manager, Wayne Smith, told New Era that the farm is one of the best paying in the country, saying the minimum salary at the farm is N$1 800 a month, but the workers disputed this, saying that the lowest paid workers earn only N$1 440 per month.
The workers New Era spoke to indicated that there are different categories for workers, with casual workers getting N$1 440 per month, while permanent general workers get from N$1 640 to a maximum of N$2 040.
The farm is situated along the Orange River, about 70 kilometres from Ariamsvlei.