Workers of the grape and date company, Al-Dahra, at Naute Dam are unhappy with what they say are slave-like working conditions and low wages. They held a peaceful demonstration in front of their employer’s offices on Friday, carrying placards and singing songs, calling for an end to the abuse of workers’ rights and for better wages.
The workers say the company pays them peanuts, compared to what Al-Dahra gets from their labour, and that the company forces them to work long hours without rest and without paying overtime.
Johannes Nakuwa, who read the petition in front of other workers after the management cadre refused to come out of their offices to receive the petition, said the workers are tired of being treated like slaves in their motherland.
Their forefathers, he said, worked in the same harsh conditions in colonial times and they cannot be subjected to the same conditions in an independent Namibia.
He said they work long hours for low wages, with most workers earning about N$1 500 per month, while they have no pension and live in overcrowded rooms.
He also said some have worked for two years on contract that is renewed each month. “We are tired of this maltreatment. We want increased salaries and better working conditions,” he said.
Some workers New Era spoke to were of the view that the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) were working in cahoots with the employer, saying it has proven to be pointless for the workers to raise their grievances with the two bodies, as nothing good comes of it, as the company wins all the time.
“When the labour guys come here they are given dates or grapes and they forget everything that they came here for. None of the workers have been helped by that office. The company always wins,” said one worker, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing their job.
The workers further said they have lost faith in Nafau, as the union seems not to care about the rights of its members.
“The union is very weak. The lady (union representative) is weak and during meetings they can even tell her to keep quiet and she will shut up,” said another worker.
Contacted for comment, Nafau Keetmanshoop branch organiser Sesilia Endjala admitted there are problems that have been reported to the union, but insisted the union is trying its best to solve those issues.
She denied the workers’ claims that the union is preventing them from striking, saying the union is not legally in any position to stop workers from exercising the right to withhold their labour, but strike certificates are issued by the Ministry of Labour, not the union.
Regarding the workers’ contracts, she said it was not possible that workers who have worked for more than two years were still without permanent contracts, noting that this was the case in the past, but it has been resolved.
“All workers who have worked for more than two seasons are having contracts,” she said, “unless I’m not aware of those that don’t.”