Sacked Namport workers could be reinstated – Mutjavikua

By Jade McClune

THE level of unemployment in the Erongo region is a matter of growing concern, particularly as a large number of workers have been retrenched from the mining and fishing sectors in recent months, while relatively few jobs have been created for young workers coming into the market.

In his 2019 State of the Region Address, Governor Cleophas Mutjavikua last week noted that in terms of the Labour Force Survey of 2016 conducted by the Namibia Statistics Agency, Erongo region had the lowest rate of unemployment (21.9%) in the country compared to Zambezi (48%) and Kunene (52.2%).

The rate of joblessness has since worsened due to the onset and deepening of the economic recession, depressed commodity prices, volatile markets and labour tensions. The youth, women and rural workers were generally worst affected by unemployment.

Some 1,100 new jobs were created over the past year in a number of sectors, including municipalities, construction, fisheries and mining, according to data presented by the governor last Wednesday.

Miners out of work

A victim of the vicissitudes of the uranium market, Langer Heinrich Mine in June 2018 retrenched 300 permanent workers and 300 contract workers before the holding company, Australia-based Paladin, effectively shut down operations in the Erongo and placed the mine into “care and maintenance”.

Langer Heinrich managing director Michael Introna said at the time that the firm was in financial difficulties, largely due to depressed global uranium prices. Only around 20 workers remained to look after the company assets at the ten year old mine after it was shut down. Some of the retrenched workers have since found employment at the nearby Husab Uranium Mine.

Namport may reinstate 86

Faced with labour strife, Namport – which employed 576 people in 2008 rising to 981 in 2017 – also dismissed 86 workers in August 2018 and issued final warnings to six others who were involved in a demonstration over union representation at the company headquarters in Walvis Bay.

The protest came after a growing number of workers had “defected” from the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (NATAU) to join the National Union of Mineworkers (MUN), which is perceived as more militant. Some claimed the company was in fact threatening its workers not to join MUN.

“However, the company is willing to reconsider its position if the dismissed workers show remorse,” Governor Mutjavikua said last week. It is understood that the governor’s office intervened to negotiate a resolution to the stand-off between the workers and company.

Last month NUNW vice president Philip Munenguni warned that Namport would lose if the matter should come before the Labour Court “because the workers were protesting on their own time, with no production lost and no work stoppage.”

Namport had initiated a massive expansion programme in 2012 that many hoped would revive job prospects and economic growth, but a recent study by Rainer Ritter and the Economic Association of Namibia showed that the growth in shipping forecast may have been too rosy.

“The forecast was that by 2017 the cargo volumes would double to 13 million tonnes. The reality of these predictions — or wishful thinking — have very different outcomes: total cargo for 2017 came to just 5.6 million tonnes; 7.5 million tonnes less than anticipated,” Ritter reported.

In a related development, Mutjavikua noted with concern that Elgin Brown & Hamer, a reputable ship repair company at Walvis Bay, also retrenched 50 workers in March after seeing notable decline in docking activity from the ship repair industry in recent years. In mid-2016, it was reported that EBH had retrenched around 200 workers voluntarily and involuntarily.

Dismissed seamen

Reflecting on the state of labour relations in the region, the governor of Erongo last week noted that more than 2,000 fishermen had lost their jobs in 2016 after they went on illegal strike over conditions of employment at sea, which they say do not meet the minimum conditions set out in the Labour Act.

“This situation is still a concern to our region. These employees still picket peacefully at the soccer stadium in Walvis Bay. Our office with the mayor of Walvis Bay took this matter up with the Minister of Fisheries and Marine resources [Bernhard Esau],” Mutjavikua reported last week.

His office requested the Fisheries Ministry to allocate “a non-commercial quota to be allocated to the government-owned fishing company Fishcor to address this empasse” and presumably employ the workers,” he said.

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