Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Namibia: Union workers demand Icelandic fishing firm Samherji pays fishermen amid corruption scandal

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THE National Union of Namibia Workers is demanding that Icelandic fishing company Samherji, that is implicated in the Fishrot scandal, compensates hundreds of workers who lost their jobs due to corruption and unfair dismissals.

The union’s vice president Phillip Munenguni at a press conference at Walvis Bay last week said profit was enjoyed by few foreigners and few corrupt Namibians, adding that employees were not paid their fair exit packages as per the labour law.

“They lost their properties, and their living conditions became unbearable. We are calling for a fast approach by the government and Samherji management in addressing the fair payments before Samherji and its subsidiaries leave this country,” he said.

Samherji partnered with ArcticNam, which comprises a group of fishing quota beneficiaries – Sinco Fishing, Epango Fishing and Yukor.

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Munenguni said fishing companies were benefiting from huge profits in fishing quotas for the past few years, while workers have been suffering.

He made reference to fishermen who have been silently protesting for years at Walvis Bay and Lüderitz – some having lost their jobs for allegedly participating in an illegal strike in 2015, while others were retrenched due to events related to the Fishrot scandal.

Samherji is alleged to have bribed local politicians and businessmen with hundreds of millions of dollars, with some figures even reaching billions of dollars, to secure horse mackerel quotas in Angola. It is alleged that former fishing company at Walvis Bay, Namsov, had to close and retrench hundreds of workers in 2018 because the company could not get enough quotas to sustain its operations. It is alleged Namsov’s horse mackerel allocation was sidelined for the Fishrot scheme.

Samherji’s acting chief executive Björgólfur Jóhannsson confirmed the company’s exit in a statement issued on Friday.

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Last week, a vessel owned by Samherji also left Walvis Bay, leaving 120 fishermen who were employed on it uncertain about their future. It is uncertain whether the vessel has left for good.

Referring to the fishermen who lost their jobs in 2015, Munenguni called on lawmakers who are shareholders of some fishing companies “to start cleaning the mess while it’s [still] early, and stop retrenchments and low wages that make the livelihood of workers unbearable.”

He said the union is also aware that employers are exploiting workers claiming that the companies have made a loss which results in retrenchment of workers who had been employed for years, and then being replaced by new intakes at reduced benefits.

He made reference to the use of ‘trip contracts’ by companies as a means to exploit workers by using temporary workers who do not enjoy social protection. Trip contracts only guarantee a wage for a single trip for the worker who signed the contract.

After the trip, the worker no longer has a job. Because of this contract, there are also no amenities included, which results in the worker having an erratic mode of income.

“This type of slavery infringes on the conditions of employment,” said Munenguni.

The Namibian reported on Wednesday that the fisheries ministry will this week meet operating companies to discuss the possible employment of retrenched fishermen.

This is a further guarantee of the assurance given last month by acting fisheries minister Albert Kawana that the fishermen’s welfare was one of the government’s top priorities, and that he was tasked by president Hage Geingob to coordinate with Erongo regional governor Cleophas Mutjavikua and the unions, through the ministry of labour, “to make sure that those workers who were retrenched get their jobs back”.

“We have a job to do to make sure that these fishermen go back to work as soon as possible,” Mutajvavikua said at a fisheries stakeholders meeting at Walvis Bay last month.

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