Government has informed more than 800 seagoing personnel that have been on strike for nine months and are now unemployed to fend for themselves, if they want their back jobs at 12 affected fishing companies.
This is contained in minutes of a meeting held in Walvis Bay on July 20 between the affected seagoing workers and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation Bro-Mathew Shinguadja.
The seagoing personnel were dismissed for partaking in a strike last year, which was deemed illegal, during which they also travelled to Windhoek to secure an audience with President Hage Geingob.
According to minutes of that meeting, Shinguadja urged the dismissed workers, who belonged to pension funds, to approach their former employers to either claim their benefits or have them transferred to other pension funds.
The 12 fishing companies have expressed willingness to take back some fishermen, but on specific conditions and have suspended the court interdict that prohibited striking workers from coming within a specific distance of company premises. This would allow the former workers to approach the companies to demand their jobs back or claim their pension monies.
The resolutions emerged from the recent failed negotiations between a committee representing the dismissed workers, an association acting on behalf of the companies and the ministry of labour, who acted as facilitator.
The companies recently made it clear that they have no interest in re-employing the fishers who went on strike. This includes Hangana Seafood, Novanam, Seaflower Whitefish Corporation, Tunacor Fisheries, Benguela Sea Products, Overberg Fishing, Corvima Fishing Company, Beluga Fishing, Rainbow Trawling, Ekikimbo Trawling, Embwiinda Fishing and Seacope Freezer Fishing.
Shinguadja said government’s wish is to have the situation resolved and retain stability in the fishing industry. The strike is said to have cost the affected companies millions of dollars in lost revenue.
In the said minutes it was noted that the main objective of the meeting was to engage the parties for a possible solution to the crisis in the fishing sector. The companies have since enlisted new seagoing personnel and maintain they are permanent employees that cannot be fired just to accommodate the dismissed workers.
The sacked workers disputed that claim, saying the striking fishers are relatives to those currently employed on fishing vessels. Meanwhile, the companies maintained that they will not be forced into re-employing their former workers collectively and that the workers should individually approach their former employers to seek employment.
Shinguadja held separate consultative sessions with both sides in trying to understand the reasons for their unwillingness to move from their positions, and other key issues.
“From these private consultations it came apparent that the parties have their positions firmly grounded with very little flexibility,” the minutes read.
Shinguadja further indicated that government is also responsible for those fishers currently employed by these companies and if they are to be dismissed unfairly, they too would appeal to government to have their rights reaffirmed.
He then informed the two parties that there are individual fishers, who have been asking if they can access their pension benefits and that some employers have expressed willingness to take some fishers back on certain conditions.
In a newsletter published at the end of August, , The United Fishers, the workers said: “Because of the impossible corruption in the Office of the Labour Commissioner we took our complaints to the Minister of Labour and to the Prime Minister… they had the duty to uphold the law by forcing the fishing companies to stop their criminal and unlawful activities. The government did nothing, which means that this government does not respect its own Constitution and the rule of law.
“Government is not legally empowered to take a hammer and resolve this type of dispute. That is why it is trying to seek a win-win solution,” Shinguadja had said.
The fishers responded: “… Mr Shinguadja, you are an official of the government. Government ministers and officials have shareholding and quotas in the fishing industries. These are the problems we have with your meetings.
“We draw your attention to the fact that we complained to the government over many years… In 2014 we lodged complaints, even with the Prime Minister when the Labour Ministry did nothing. Our complaints included forced labour for 21 hours on average per day, no health and safety measures and regular deaths and loss of limb at sea, no over-time payment, as stipulated by the Labour Act of 2011, employment of unqualified persons in health and safety with fraudulent documentation and generally no compliance with the laws of the country by the fishing companies. There is no living wage and the wages are far below the amount needed to sustain the fishermen’s families.”
They said: “The administration of justice by the Office of the Labour Commissioner is only corruption. The arbitrators are all corrupt and the law means nothing to them. This matter would not have gone so far if there was honest and decent administration of justice.”