23 May 2012

Namibia: Interdict Halts Ex-Brewery Workers

Windhoek — Protesting former Namibia Breweries workers dispersed yesterday after management served an interdict on them to discontinue a "sit-in demonstration" at the Ohlthaver & List Group's (O&L) head office in Windhoek.

A union official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed that the workers dispersed after the Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Alpheus Muheua, intervened so that further evidence of their claims can be established.

The workers however vowed to challenge the court interdict. National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Secretary-General, Evalistus Kaaronda, confirmed that the matter is now in the hands of the Labour Commissioner who will verify and confirm the workers' claims.

The workers have to produce proof that they have not received their pension pay-outs. The company maintains that it does not owe the affected group any money and also invited them to take the necessary legal action, "if they believe differently."

The court interdict came after the company threatened legal action last week if the workers' actions continued to jeopardize trading activities at the mall. Workers assembled on the lawn in front of the O&L head office as part of their ongoing protests against the company over pension payouts and alleged illegal dismissals and broken labour agreements.

"These demonstrations are not only unwarranted, but also negatively impact business activities in the mall. Therefore, should the demonstration continue to jeopardize trading activities in the mall, legal action will be instituted," explained O&L Group Manager Public Relations, Roux-Che Locke.

Some former employees of the Ohlthaver & List Group who were dismissed back in 1989 staged yet another sit-in protest in front of the company's headquarters in Windhoek last week.

They allege that their pensions were not paid out to them when their services were terminated.

A spokesperson of the workers, Petrus Amathila, told New Era that they have approached the NUNW to prepare a petition and to try and get the company to meet their demands.

Locke said the company's pension fund has not withheld any pension benefits that were due to the former workers. She, however, added that an independent investigation team was constituted after a group of ex-employees started making claims for payment in 2004.

The independent investigation team consisted of lawyers, labour consultants and chartered accountants. The scope of the assignment for the independent panel was to investigate the claims of outstanding pension pay-outs; claims that termination benefits were not paid out; entitlement to plots and houses, whether the affected workers are entitled to compensation for hardships and loss of income.

She explained that the findings and recommendations of the investigation team into the above claims were accepted by both parties. On the first claim, the panel found that the claim for non-payment of pension money should rather be lodged against the pension fund and not against O&L and it was referred to the pension fund.

On the second claim, the panel found that termination benefits were paid. Termination benefits refer to salaries that were due to the dismissed employees, as well as their accumulated leave-days. On the third claim, Locke said the panel found that there was no validity in the claim for plots and houses.

"The background to this particular matter is that the employees who participated in the illegal strike and had resided in company-owned houses had to vacate those company-owned houses after their dismissal. The claim by employees was that such houses belonged to them. The panel found that the houses belonged to the company, hence the dismissal of this particular claim," she explained.

The panel found that there was merit in the claim and that loss of income and hardship may have been endured by some of the employees concerned; hence the decision to contribute an ex-gratia payment of N$540 000, 00 to settle this claim.

"It is unfortunate that this matter has become an annual event. Therefore, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this adverse demonstration may have caused, especially to our valued tenants, customers, the general public and the O&L brand," she said.

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