RUNDU - Workers at government irrigation projects in Kavango East and Kavango West are demanding that government removes Agribusdev from the helms of the projects.
They are accusing the state-owned company – tasked to operate the irrigation schemes – of not treating them well.
The workers delivered their grievances to the Kavango East governor’s office through a peaceful demonstration led by the Namibian Farmworkers Union (Nafwu) on Monday.
Most of these workers have been working at these projects before the agency was established to man the operations. Agribusdev is the custodian of all the government green schemes countrywide. In Kavango East, Agribusdev runs Shadikongoro, Uvhungu-Vhungu and Ndonga Linena projects and Sikondo in Kavango West.
“We the workers of Agribusdev in the Kavango regions are worried about how we are being treated by [the company]. We need our ministry of agriculture and office of the governor to assist us to find out why our rights are not respected in Agribusdev,” Cornelius Ntelamo from Nafwu stated in a petition delivered on behalf of the workers to governor Samuel Mbambo.
Workers in their petition complained of frequent late payments of their salaries and that they work many hours but not well compensated. They receive no overtime for work done on weekends and public holidays.
“We sometimes stay for two months without payment, and received no salary increments for many years now, and the salaries we get is not enough for our needs. Since we started working for Agribusdev we have been getting the same salary and no promotions or increment. No health and safety measures in our farms, we don’t get protective equipments,” Ntelamo further read.
When approached for comment, Agribusdev Managing Director Petrus Uugwanga said the action taken by workers to stay away from work without permission to embark on the demonstration was illegal.
“And hence it must be clear that what they are currently busy with can be construed to be an illegal strike. The consequences of engaging in an illegal strike shall be understood by all employees and we expect the union to know better,” Uugwanga said.
“In the first place, the engagement between Agribusdev and the union should have taken place before such action. Secondly, no declaration of unresolved dispute was registered by the Labour Commissioner’s Office and hence this could be an illegal industrial action,” he added.
“Over and above that, most issues in the petition are dispute of rights and not of interest. There are established law and institutions through which these types of disputes shall be handled and we have no record of overtime dispute registered so far with my office and approved overtime is always honoured plus we are giving protective clothing yearly,” he noted.
Uugwanga further stated that the agency remains eager to engage the union and provide the necessary leadership in the interest of all parties and within the framework of the signed recognition agreement.
“It is a fact that given the regional and local economic slowdown, our cashflow has been negatively affected. This situation is further aggravated by the past natural incident that affected our production. The shareholder ministry (agriculture) is fully aware of the situation and has allocated resources for the upcoming season as a mechanism to boost production,” he said.