Neckartal Workers Claim Abuse By Impregilo

WORKERS at Salini Impregilo, the Italian company contracted to the Neckartal Dam project near Keetmanshoop, are claiming abuse at the hands of their Italian employers, citing nepotism, exploitation and unfair labour practices.

In a detailed letter sent to The Namibian last week, workers expressed grievances over allegations of discrimination, human rights violations, victimisation, racism, and unfair dismissal, among a host of other things.

“The company has also been hiring Italian managers instead of Namibians. Simple positions such as warehouse manager, safety manager and chief accountant are filled by Italians,” said a source.

Workers say the situation is worsened by the fact that they work on empty stomachs with no safe drinking water at the construction site despite the long extended working hours. Concerns of health hazards have also been raised, with workers saying there is only one mobile toilet shared by both men and women.

“The Italians have their own toilets that are clean and in good condition but workers are not permitted to use them,” said the source. According to the source, their safety at the construction site is also compromised because no safety measures are followed, while their employers use derogatory racial remarks, labelling them “hungry Namibians”.

“We are facing these each day of our lives. We can’t speak to the Italians because they are rude, they shout at us, and never listen to what we have to say,” a disgruntled worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation, told The Namibian.

The company contracted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to build the N$2,72 billion dam over a 36-month period, employs more than 138 workers.

Some of the workers also claim the abuse has become physical.

A visit by officials from the Namibia Tender Board in May yielded little results as workers claim that the members witnessed their deplorable working conditions but took no action.

“After three years, a lot of people will be sick or dead due to lack of safety and the poor working environment,” said another employee.

Tender Board spokesperson Leoni du Toit confirmed that they had a retreat at Keetmanshoop in May this year, where officials visited the dam construction site.

“However, the purpose of the visit was for the Board to familiarise itself with the progress of the construction and not to perform any inspection on the working conditions”, she said, referring The Namibian to the agriculture ministry whose mandate is to deal with working conditions.

The company’s human resource manager, Hendrina Mukwiilengo, said she was not aware of the allegations the workers were making, while phone calls to the company’s administration manager, Luigi Pomar, were futile despite several attempts.

The director of water supply and sanitation coordination at the agriculture ministry, Leopold Niipare, said his office has not received any such complaints from the workers.

“I heard of a few cases of workers being dismissed but the allegations of unfair labour practices is news to me. I will be visiting the construction site next week and will definitely investigate these,” he said.

Source : The Namibian