11 December 2012

Namibia: Fishermen Complain About Trawler Conditions

FISHING right holders should take responsibility for the treatment of workers on foreign trawlers catching their quotas.

The president of the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna), Paulus Hango, said quota holders should be blamed for ceding their quotas to companies that violate the Namibian labour law.

Hango was reacting to complaints by fishermen who worked on a Chinese-owned trawler where working conditions were allegedly appalling.

Hango said he had been informed of the conditions on board the MV Leader and that they were bad.

No safety drills are done on the vessel, as is standard practice on other ships, he said.

The former workers said the on-board factory is only cleaned once per fishing trip.

Paulus also accused the trawler of employing its workers through labour-hire companies, which are illegal.

“What happens is that people who get the fishing quotas promise the ministry that they will employ people but they end up employing them through labour hire, which is just temporary,” he said.

“Some of them [right holders] are Members of Parliament and they do not want the status quo to be changed,” Hango said.

The MV Leader was manned by about 54 Namibians, 80 Chinese and 10 Indonesian fishermen.

The workers claim that they were fed only porridge, chicken and pork knuckles, and only twice a day.

The vessel is owned by a Singapore Exchange-listed company, China Fishery Group Limited, which is a global fishing company operating in some of the world’s most important fishing grounds.

It is alleged that Chinese companies fishing in Namibian waters pay exorbitant fees to quota holders and then try to recoup the expense by saving on labour costs.

People in the know said that China Fishery paid N$24 million to the fishing right holders for their quota, while other operators only pay about N$16 million for the same size of quota.

The N$24 million is said to have been paid to a joint venture of five companies, including the Hefdy Group.

Betty Aluteni, a representative of Hefdy Group, told The Namibian yesterday that they have a scheduled board meeting today and questions should be emailed to her so that they can collectively decide on a response.

Kent Yeh, the director of corporate development and planning of the Pacific Andes Group, the holding company of China Fishery Group, said in an email response that they were “totally surprised by the allegations” and were not aware of such issues.

He said the vessel was operating in Namibian waters earlier in the year, but had finished work in September and that no Namibian crew members had been on board since September.

He wanted more information about working conditions so that a “thorough investigation” could be conducted.

The vessel, which caught horse mackerel, is also accused of not paying ‘fish commission’, or a share of the catch, to the workers, which is contrary to industry practice.

There are a number of other foreign companies catching fish in Namibian waters on behalf of local right holders.

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