Service Station Workers’ Strike Spreads North

The strike in the petrol retail industry continued into its second day yesterday after talks collapsed on Monday evening.

Petrol attendants in Oshana, Ohangwena, Oshikoto and Omusati regions have joined the strike that commenced on Monday in Windhoek.

“The talks collapsed last night. The strike is continuing,” Namibian Fuel and Allied Workers Union (Nafawu) Secretary General, David Frans, told New Era yesterday.

Service station workers are demanding a wage increase from the current range of between N$250 and N$800 per month to a minimum of N$4 500. Yesterday demonstrations in the northern regions was a tad tense with workers citing threatening and derogatory statements from some of their employers, who reportedly threatened to fire those taking part in the strike and demonstrations – as “there are a lot of hungry Wambo’s in the streets.”

The Association of Service Station Owners (ASSO) was set to have a meeting late yesterday afternoon on how to respond to the workers. “We will have a meeting [and only] then I will let you know what we decide,” said ASSO spokesperson Rupert Harnse, without going into detail on the questions sent to him.

The Deputy Secretary General of Nafawu, Matheus Johannes Shekutamba, disclosed that the workers would not return to work until their demands are met.

The demands come six years after the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) published a research study, ‘Petrol Workers Study 2008’, which found that service station workers are the country’s most vulnerable workers, earning the lowest hourly rates that translate into between N$300 and N$2 000 per month. Interestingly the earnings cited this week seems to have dropped below the earnings published in the 2008 report.

That study also concluded that, among others, the “main beneficiaries from the sale of petrol are the oil companies, local suppliers, the government, parastatals such as Motor Vehicle Accident Fund and Road Fund Administration … ” while workers earn the lowest earnings making them part of the “country’s large number of vulnerable workers”.

The report also pointed out that the dealer margins the ministry apportions to service station owners give little room to improve the remuneration of petrol attendants.

“We are disappointed with workers who are not taking part in the strike. Because at the end of the day they will get the same benefits as those who are on strike,” said Seltu Alweendo, the Nafawu branch manager who was speaking for the northern workers who gathered in Oshakati yesterday.

The workers echoed the findings of the LaRRI 2008 study report, asking for respect at work by their employers, decent working hours and conditions.

“If there is an emergency in the family you won’t get permission to go that day – sometimes when you get the permission to go it is after a week. How do I attend a funeral after a week?” questioned an angry worker.

The LaRRI study reported of irregular working hours of shifts lasting up to 16 hours and sometimes 24 hours, weekly working hours of between 60 to 90 hours, from Monday to Sunday, with no overtime.

“Employers should join hands with the union to plead to the government for assistance in a case where the employer cannot afford. We have said it to them multiple times, but to no avail,” said Shekutamba.

Source : New Era