Meatco employees yesterday took to the streets to voice their grievances and demand significant improvements to their working conditions and pay.
The workers’ primary concerns revolved around the need for better wages, adjustments in housing allowances, and comprehensive medical benefits.
Joseph Kambala, on behalf of the employees, voiced his disappointment regarding the delay in implementing the salary increase as stipulated in the corrective agreement between their union, the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) and Meatco.
The petition states the employees were originally scheduled to receive a salary increment on 1 March each year, following the conclusion of wage negotiations between the union and Meatco.
As per the recognition agreement, these negotiations were to be conducted during September and October annually.
“Meatco board did not give the mandate to the management to give salary increase. As a result, the wage negotiation was delayed, the board does not recognise employees’ effort and contribution toward the company and we are disappointed and condemning the board’s decision to withhold the salary increase,” they protested.
Amidst a flood of their requests, they are demanding a 14% salary increase for all employees, an adjustment of the housing allowance to N$1 000, and a medical aid plan where the employer contributes 80% and employees contribute 20%.
Additionally, they are demanding that 50% of fixed-term contract employees be appointed to permanent positions. They want fixed-term employees to have their fixed hours increased to 97.5 hours per month.
They also insist that if fixed-term contract employees work fewer hours on a particular day, they should still be paid for a full nine hours.
Furthermore, they expect fixed-term contract employees to receive an annual bonus similar to other employees and to be entitled to severance pay as per section 35 (1)(a) of the Labour Act N0 11 of 2007 when their contract ends.
Their grievances, however, extend beyond remuneration and encompass many issues such as questionable management practices and unfavourable working conditions.
Kambala said the board of directors has failed to effectively oversee and evaluate the company’s operations, leading to poor decision-making. They question the rationale behind the minister of public enterprises extending the board’s term for an additional two months, fearing that this extension will cause further delays. They urge the line minister to rescind the extension of the board’s contract.
They are complaining that the price of the contractors such as security and transport hired by Meatco has increased while employees’ salaries were not increased.
They are also unhappy with the upgrade of the office of the CEO, saying a lot of money has gone into the renovation.
“Producers price has been increased in order to increase throughput and nothing was achieved to sustain the business, why other things have increased if there is no money to increase our salaries?” they questioned.
According to them, the wage negotiation did not take place to date and despite several meetings requested by the union, the management has not attended the meeting.
In a meeting held in March this year, the employees were informed about the resolution passed by the board that there will be no salary increase in the 2023-24 financial year for reasons that the cash strapped entity is not in a financial position to increase salaries.
The employees are not convinced the entity does not have money, saying more than 300 cattle are being slaughtered in a day and demanding answers on where the money has gone, suspecting that if there really is no money, then there is misappropriation.
On the other hand, the aggrieved workers are also calling for an investigation into the logistic and human resource department complaining about back door recruitment in the organisation.
They claim the workforce keeps on increasing while the throughput keeps on declining.
“Why increasing the workforce that increases the wage bill while the throughput is less? Yet the employees are told that there will be no salary increment due to lack of funds in the organisation,” they questioned.
In an interview with New Era, Meatco CEO Mwilima Mushokobanji said, “being in the natural resource management, we are challenged by natural calamities such as drought, floods and disease outbreaks and one of the biggest droughts we have had was in 2019, so the cattle population in this country is 2.5 million, we lost 50% of the national head.”
He said for Meatco to break even, the company needs to slaughter 66 000 cattle annually.
“Meaning for the past two years we could only slaughter 36 000 cattle on average. The past two years have been very rough. We took a decision that we are not going to increase salaries for the employees but for the past two years we have increased salaries for the lower-level employees, the ones that were demonstrating but we didn’t increase salaries for the top management, so we have put in measures to make sure we build a resilient dynamical capable commercial public enterprise that is competitive and resilient,” he explained.
Mushokobanji said Meatco’s revenue increased by 15%.
“In April we broke even, in May and June we made a profit and this is evidence that we have got a competent board and management spearheading the ship,” he confidently said.
Responding generally to the employees’ complaints, he said most issues were already addressed.
“We have got systems and processes and our recruitment procedures are tight and there is no space for corruption in Meatco. Their biggest issue is salary increment. The economy is very rough and the disposable income for most staff are being challenged and interest rates have gone high, so they are challenged economically and it is just normal that we should give them a chance to express themselves,” he said.
He, however, pleaded for patience from the employees for the business to recover.
“There are organisations that have cut down 50% of their employees but we make sure our employees every month are paid and we have given them that assurance and we will continue, however, we have taken note of the issues raised,” he assured.