Namibian Contract Workers Down Tools At Husab

OVER 100 Namibian workers of the Group Five company, which is one of the main contractors for constructing infrastructure for Swakop Uranium’s Husab mine production plant, downed tools yesterday and prohibited more than 200 of their foreign colleagues from doing their work, too.

Workers on the mine site said they no longer want foreigners employed in positions that Namibians can fill.

“There are more foreigners working for this company here than Namibians. They are doing jobs we could be doing but we have to settle for being assistants with less pay than these foreigners,” a worker told The Namibian.

According to the workers, they have been trying to negotiate but their request to reduce the foreign workforce and fill the positions with Namibians has allegedly fallen on deaf ears, hence the decision to down tools indefinitely. While they are taking this action, their foreign colleagues – mostly Filipino, Thai and Ghanaian citizens, have to stay in the mine’s workers’ camp known as ‘Husab Village’.

“There is no aggression from our side. They must just stay in the camp until the company listens to us. We will not allow them to continue working while we down tools over our grievances,” another worker explained.

It is understood that one of the terms to be negotiated is the reduction of the foreign complement of the Group Five company to 25% to make way for Namibians to fill the positions.

The Namibian attempted to speak to John Lotz of Group Five in South Africa but he was not available. A message was left to return the newspaper’s call but he did not do so by the time of going to print.

Swakop Uranium’s vice president for human resources and business support Percy McCallum was also sent questions related to the strike, and how it would effect operations, but he also did not reply by the time of going to print.

General secretary of the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) Justina Jonas said the issue of Group Five employing foreigners has been present since the company started work at Husab mine last October.

“Originally, the focus was to bring foreigners to do work that Namibians could not do, but they went overboard and brought foreigners to do work that locals can do like welders, boilermakers, crane operators and other engineering types of work. Erongo is an engineering region and we train Namibians accordingly. There are now more foreigners than Namibians. This is absurd and an embarrassment to the government,” she said.

According to Jonas, the union was busy with negotiations this week but the management returned to South Africa, leaving matters unresolved.

“It’s as if they don’t care and do not take us seriously, so now our members have downed tools. We will see what happens now, whether this employer will come to the table and resolve this matter. For now operations could be effected,” she warned.

This is the second strike in about a month at Husab. The Namibian reported of an illegal strike by workers of Servest Multi Service Group Namibia, the contractor responsible for the catering and housekeeping of thousands of the mine’s workers, who stay at ‘Husab Village’.

There were also reports of alleged anti-foreigner threats, which were however refuted by Swakop Uranium.

That strike, which was triggered by some workers’ apparent dissatisfaction with the terms and conditions of a recognition agreement between the contractor and the bargaining union, was however ended soon after the initial action started.

Source : The Namibian