Eveline de Klerk
WALVIS BAY – The fishing industry, which collectively employs 16 000 people directly, is not ready to set a minimum wage across the various sub-sectors despite such talks as far as 2014.
This is according to the ministry of labour executive director Bro-Mathew Shinguadja. The idea of a minimum wage for the fishing industry, which is one of the largest employers in the country, was proposed by the ministry so that stakeholders can collectively come to an agreement that would not only address a minimum wage but also conditions of employment.
Living and employment conditions of the fishing industry employees have been a concern for government, with fisheries minister Albert Kawana recently lashing out at some of the industry players for the state of affairs and slavery wages that some workers are still subjected to.
“The issue was proposed by us several years ago and was once again discussed this year to see a collective agreement that not only speaks about minimum wage but to also look at employment conditions. But the sector is still not ready,” Shinguadja explained yesterday.
He said the fishing industry is vast, unlike the construction and agriculture industries as well as the domestic workers who currently have a minimum wage.
According to Shinguadja, the fishing industry, because of the different sub-sectors, negotiates wages directly with unions.
“We also want a minimum wage for the industry and have given them the idea already but we cannot prescribe it to them, as they collectively have to discuss and come up with one,” he said.
He then explained some of the stumbling blocks of the minimum wage for the industry is the fact that some employees are remunerated well and fear that a minimum wage might be a setback for them.
“Others, especially those working at sea, prefer getting a fish commission instead of overtime. These are all things that need to be looked at,” he added.
Chairman of the Confederation of Namibian Fishing Associations (CNFA) Matti Amukwa yesterday confirmed the industry has not yet entertained any talks with regard to a minimum wage. “It is in the hands of individual companies and unions to negotiate wages for employees; hence, we cannot paint them all with the same brush when it comes to low salaries,” Amukwa said.
According to Amukwa, it is very tricky to demand a minimum wage if you are not from the industry. “We have different sectors and all of them have their own challenges; thus, the dynamics are not the same; for instance, the total allowable catch of various species, operations of different sectors – that impacts salaries overall. However, the minimum wage is not a bad thing at all,” he explained.
Amukwa added he understands some companies were paying slave wages even though the pay was negotiated by unions on behalf of employees.
“They should rather go back to the companies and re-negotiate better benefits and salaries for their members,” he said.
Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) regional organiser Johannes Shayuka, on his part, said a minimum wage for the industry has been on the table for years now but no tangible solution or agreement has been reached. “We also discussed the issue earlier this year with the labour ministry. We also gave our position and made submissions to fast-track a minimum wage for this rich industry,” he said. Shayuka also explained a minimum wage would make a significant impact on the lives of fishing industry workers.
He added some workers are still employed on a ‘no work; no pay’ basis, while some fishermen only have trip contracts.
“This disadvantages our employees; we should really look into a minimum wage to close the gap within the sector,” he said.
According to various unions representing fishing industry workers, salaries range from N$900 for contract workers employed in factories, while some permanent workers can get a basic salary of up to N$4 000 and can take home about N$7 000 with overtime and other benefits.
Fishermen, according to unions, can earn up to N$10 000 and more with other benefits included. - email@example.com