Namibia Economist (Windhoek)

14 September 2012

Namibia: Manwu Scowls At Chinese Employers

The Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union have declared the Chinese employers in the construction industry as the worst employers in the country and urged workers to familiarise themselves with the laws that protect them. MANWU issued this warning at a media briefing on the outcomes of its 8th Ordinary National Congress recently.

"Since 2007, workers employed by the Chinese construction companies have been fighting for improvement of their working condition at these construction sites, but little change are coming to the fore," Narina Pollmann, the Deputy General Secretary of the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union told the Economist last week.

She said that the congress has deliberately brought up this matter as urgent action must be taken by the Union to make sure that the Chinese respect the laws in Namibia. "A joint-force labour movement is highly needed in the industries the Chinese are operating in to make sure they comply with our laws."

Pollmann said that although some Chinese companies have been complying with the laws since 2011 in terms of the construction minimum wage, the majority of the Chinese companies are still not abiding by the law.

She said according to the information that they have managed to obtain on the Labour Culture of the Chinese, most of these companies are Central Enterprises owned by the Chinese government and most of them have signed a declaration through their association called the China International Contractors Association, stipulating that they have to adhere to the local laws of that specific country in which they are operating. "But they are not doing that! We have also found out that all Chinese embassies in different countries are given the responsibility to make sure that all Chinese companies linked to the government, are operating within the local laws."

Pollmann said that they are also expected to designate one person within the embassy to deal with labour issues, more specifically to deal with the trade unions, where labour issues occur. "All these are not happening. A meeting held Between the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union and the China Embassy early this year was hopeless. The union went to seek intervention from the embassy, but this was a slap in our face, which means the embassy was not willing to assist us in this regard."

She said this is a national issue and the union will not compromise on anything. "We hold the mandate as leaders to make sure that workers in the construction industry are protected. We are busy working on a strategy on how to show those who are not complying with our laws that we are Namibians and our laws deserve respect by any investor who is investing in our country and not just the Chinese."

The congress is currently discussing and looking for a resolution on membership for life whereby union members can be members of the union for as long as they are alive. They also look at the participation of workers in union activities, which is one of the concerns tabled at the congress. MANWU wants workers to start exercising their rights as well as belong to a trade union. "Many workers are not unionised because trade unions are not really focusing on representing their interest and the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union wants to change this."

"We need to go back to the basics of a trade union and remind ourselves of trade union's aims and objectives so that workers retain their trust back back to unions," said Pollmann.

She said that the congress has also adopted a Community Based Education programme, which will be an exciting activity for the next 4 years. The main thrust of this programme hinges on MANWU members going into the communities and offering free education to the people, whether employed or unemployed. Pollmann said that this process has already begun as they have taken the first step; consultation with the relevant stake holders.

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