Namibia: Agribusdev's Workers Unpaid for August

11 September 2019

AUSSENKEHR-BASED workers of the state-owned Agricultural Business Development Agency (Agribusdev) have threatened to take unspecified action in view of unpaid salaries for August.

In July, the cash-strapped agency also failed to pay its workforce of 86 permanent as well as close to 70 casual workers based at the Orange Irrigation Project (Orip) at Aussenkehr on time.

Infuriated by the financial hardships they face due to unpaid salaries, the agency's workers demanded payments by Friday, or a proper explanation why they had not been paid.

"For now, we will wait until 13 September for you to give us an answer concerning our salaries. If not, then we, the workers, will decide any action to be taken at the (Orip) project," stated a letter by the workers dated 6 September to Agribusdev managing director Petrus Uugwanga.

The workers said the delayed payment of salaries had resulted in the cancellation of their insurance polices, unpaid bills and rent, and bad credit ratings.

"Our children are suffering, as we cannot put food on the table," they lamented.

The workers said they were told that the company is unable to pay their salaries due to the financial crisis in which it finds itself.

According to them, the company management said their salaries could only be paid with returns from the dates expected to be harvested in April next year.

The workers also revealed that the company has not yet pruned and fumigated about 250 hectares of grapevines, and thus risk losing millions of dollars in yield returns.

Grapevine pruning, the workers stated, is very important in managing the plant's size, shape and productivity.

The said 700 workers the company normally hires seasonally to assist with the pruning remain jobless, and cannot start the pruning because of the lack of money.

"[The] government had developed these green schemes for food security and job creation, but it seems this is not the case if one looks at the current situation the workers are being put in by the agency," an affected worker, who refused to be named, stated.

The agency is expected to be self-sustainable, but according to the workers, crop yields and income seem to have dropped.

"Our salaries have been delayed lately because the company's self-generated funds have dried up, and since it is not getting funds from [the] government, its financial woes have deepened," said another worker.

In July, The Namibian reported that the agency's management had warned workers to prepare for "unfavourable events" due to continued financial troubles.

Agribusdev's finance manager, Natanael Amoomo, had informed staff members then that the agriculture ministry had not yet approved their 2019 budget. The agency was formed in 2011 to improve Namibia's food security.

At its peak, it managed 10 green schemes, but that number decreased after the entity was forced to privatise some projects.

Uugwanga did not respond to cellphone calls when contacted for comment, and also failed to reply to text messages sent to him last Thursday and on Monday.

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