THE Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union's Walvis Bay branch has condemned unfair labour practices in the country's snoek industry.
The union called on fishing companies to end these practices which include 'no work no pay', working without employment contracts, pay rates of only N$20 per day for seagoing employees, working environments that are not conducive and the deduction of fishing tool costs from employees' salaries.
Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) Erongo regional representative Johannes Shayuka, who talked to the media and workers on Saturday, said the industry should start abiding the Labour Act and stop waiting to be forced by labour unions.
"The Labour Act is clear. You need to give people a contract of employment before they start to work for you. The new snoek season starts next week and we do not want to see anybody at work without a contract. We will launch a case against those companies. They [employees] are paid N$2 per fish, but the fish is sold for up to N$200. You are robbing people. They are risking their lives for such an amount. We will no longer tolerate that," Shayuka said.
Some fishermen allegedly started working in 1977 and cannot retire due to not having any retirement funds or pension monies.
"These old men can die easily and anytime because snoek is a heavy fish to catch. At their age they cannot manage but they have no choice," he said.
Shayuka urged companies to provide protective gear and fishing tools for their workers, without making deductions from their salaries.
"It is your responsibility to provide. They [employees] do not have to pay back the money. You say that it is because they are misusing the equipment. Do you not have supervisors? This new season must be different. We will go see the president if necessary," he said.
Nafau is appealing to the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to organise a meeting between the workers and snoek companies to sort out the issue.
Robert Shikola (75) is one of the fishermen who started working in 1977.
"We used to earn 5c per fish that we catch. I now earn N$2. I do not have a choice. I need to work because I cannot only survive from the government pension money. I would like to earn more so that I can care for my family. I do not even have any benefits," he said.
Sem Nkalamba (71) has seven children and is struggling to provide for them.
"When we complain, we are told that we can go home or look for other employment. I started working in this industry in 1978, but have nothing to show for it."
Fisheries minister Derek Klazen told The Namibian that the union has not officially communicated with his office, but he promised to look into the matter when this is done.
"It is a labour matter. I believe we need to do it jointly with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and Ministry of Labour. We will engage Nafau first and then talk to industry. I will inform the ministry of labour," he said.
Nafau currently represents about 90 paid members from the industry, while approximately 70 new members joined this month.