Walvis Bay-In a desperate move to get their jobs back more than 300 seamen marched to the Ministry of Labour offices at Walvis Bay yesterday morning to hand over another petition demanding their re-instatement.
The seamen have been unemployed since November 2015 after participating in what was declared an illegal strike, led by the Metal, Mining Maritime and Construction (MMMC) union. At the time, about 4,000 fishermen threatened to go on an all-out strike to cripple the lucrative local fishing industry if their concerns were not addressed.
The fishermen claimed they were paid a pittance, despite working long hours and that salary disparities were rife, while fishing companies raked in millions of dollars for government and for private fishing companies.
A strong contingent of fishermen later travelled to Windhoek to see President Hage Geingob, who then advised them to end the illegal strike and return to work.
Ministry of Labour permanent secretary Bro-Mathew Shinguandja later advised them to go and beg to get back their old jobs from their former employers following the breakdown of negotiations between them, the companies and the government.
Mathews Lungameni, who spoke on behalf of the group, yesterday told New Era the strike has had devastating consequences for their families and that several workers have committed suicide as a result.
“Our people are really suffering. The strike has also affected our members emotionally and physiologically. Up to date we have lost 18 members. The majority of them committed suicide, others died due to health complications and vehicle accidents. Last week another one hanged himself. That’s how unbearable the situation has become.”
He said the seamen want their jobs back to regain lost pride and to provide for their families. He said they appreciated the fact that parliament amended section 17 and 19 of the Labour Act, which stipulates that workers should not work more than nine hours per day and no more than five hours overtime per day and that nightshift allowance is payable from 20h00 until 07h00.
“We’re happy that the amendments came into force, but we want our jobs back and also want our overtime to be paid out from 2008 until now, as we worked for it already. We’re only giving the Ministry of Labour seven days to respond to our demands,” he warned.
Upon receipt of the petition an administrator in the offices of the Ministry of Labour at Walvis Bay, Getrude Usiku, said she would forward it to the relevant authorities, adding that there is nothing her office can do to ease the plight of the seamen. “The case was dismissed because the right procedures were not followed and it is unfortunate that the issue had reached this point,” she told the assembled workers.