Namibia: 'Chinese Invasion' Claims Hit Cement Factory

Employees of Cheetah Cement have expressed dismay with the lack of Namibians in higher ranks and managerial positions at the cement company, despite them holding the relevant qualifications.

The workers claim that Cheetah Cement, located a few kilometres north of Otjiwarongo in the Otjozondjupa region, largely employs Chinese nationals.

According to a recent grievance letter seen by The Namibian, the workers claim that the company currently employ more Chinese workers than local ones, even where Namibian employees have the necessary skills for those positions.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an employee who has been working closely with the aggrieved workers, confirmed that Chinese workers are brought in to fill positions for which Namibian employees have qualifications.

"They bring in people from China to do these jobs, while there are Namibians who are qualified to do them," he said.

He also elaborated on an 'understudy programme' that exists within the cement factory which positions a Namibian to work under a Chinese employee - supposedly to allow an exchange of skills. However, the Namibian employees are often more qualified than their Chinese counterparts, the source stressed.

Furthermore, the letter details complaints about poor and unfair working conditions, amongst them the absence of work contracts, lack of medical aid, and low wages and victimisation.

Another worker confirmed these claims.

"I started working here seven months ago, and I am still working without a contract. It's a factory, but we're getting paid like we're working at a grocery store", he charged.

The worker stated that their basic salary remains between N$3 000 and N$4 000 per month, and their housing allowance is only 5% of that.

As a result, many of them find themselves in debt. "Rent is from N$1 500 to N$2 000; just a room with a toilet. N$2 500 might get you a room with a kitchen and a toilet," he added.

Although the workers are members of the Metal, Mining, Maritime and Construction Union (MMMC)- an affiliate union of the Namibia National Labour Organisation (Nanlo), they say they feel stuck between the union and the cement company as the two entities leave them out of pertinent decision-making conversations.

"They signed a mission agreement without any workers present, and under the agreement, there are certain things that do not apply [to us]," one of them said.

Nanlo secretary general, Kleofas Taapopi, who is representing the workers, said discussions with management are at a standstill because the company's chief executive officer, Li Yong Fu, is currently out of the country, and negotiations cannot proceed without him.

"The only person that has power within the management is currently in China and will be back on the 20th," he said.

Taapopi feigned surprise that the workers felt stuck, adding that it had previously been discussed that the issue would be on hold until the return of the CEO.

"There was a meeting held at the site with five of the shop stewards. I attended the meeting, [and] asked the shop stewards to wait until management came back so that we can attend to it. I thought they were on the same page", he observed.

The workers, however, disputed Taapopi's account. They said the agreement was to resolve the issues a few days after the meeting.

"They told us that by the Friday [after the meeting], they'd give us an answer. Later when the shop stewards went to the office, they came up with the story that [the CEO] isn't there," one of the workers explained.

Despite numerous attempts to get comment from Cheetah Cement, The Namibian was unable to get any response from management.

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