AUSSENKEHR – The Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, Utoni Nujoma, is of the view that employers, employees, trade unions and the government should all join hands in the spirit of tripartism to fully develop Aussenkehr to the optimum benefit of all to heed the call for inclusivity by President Hage Geingob.
He made these remarks when addressing stakeholders at Namibia Grape Company at Aussenkehr, //Kharas region as part of his familiarisation tour that aims to bring about harmonious labour relations and furthermore avert retrenchments in different economic sectors of the economy.
“The aim of my visit is for all of us to sit down and discuss issues and challenges existing, rather than to prescribe to you as stakeholders how to operate your business,” he emphasised.
Nujoma said the economy is not doing well currently in light of the devastating, persistent drought and Covid-19 pandemic that has affected all spheres of life. “It is my sincere hope that farmers will be able to export their grapes during December this year, provided a cure (vaccine) will be found for the coronavirus by then in order to allow markets to open again,” said the politician.
He urged grape farmers to prevent retrenchments as far as possible, adding that the government is also in the process of legally challenging the High Court of Namibia’s decision which allows employees to be retrenched in times of economic difficulties experienced by employers.
In terms of the shortage of decent housing for grape workers, he urged all parties to come on board to construct decent, affordable housing for the labour force.
“Government is also in a position to involve the Namibia Housing Enterprise (NHE) and Ministry of Urban and Rural Development through the Build Together Programme to address these housing challenges in Aussenkehr,” he said.
Nujoma said employers should rather consider building low-cost, one-bedroom houses for their workers instead of luxury houses which they will not be able to afford.
Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) secretary general Jacob Penda said profits made by grape farm owners do not address the needs of employees as they do not possess property, despite having worked for years. “Government should intervene and get more shares in the country’s resources to address the plight of our workers,” he suggested as a remedial course of action.
The executive director in the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja, was concerned employees in the grape sector will retire after many years without being property owners if the situation is not addressed as a matter of priority.
“Look at what the Chinese did for their workers at Husab Uranium Mine, they put up affordable pre-fabricated houses for their employees which can be easily removed in times of relocation,” he said. He advised employers to consider this more economically viable option instead of building expensive brick-structured houses for their workers.
Paulus Ephraim, Karasburg West constituency councillor, said the 660 hectares of land was previously donated to government for housing purposes but that this land cannot be developed as it has not yet been transferred into the government’s name. “Surveying was done and plans have been submitted to the deeds office, but we are still waiting on the transfer of the land as it is a long process,” he stated.
Ephraim noted that water was connected to some plots availed by government for the construction of shacks as an interim solution, but that electricity still needs to be connected.
One of the grape farm owners, Willem Visser, gave the assurance that they will build houses for workers, but that they want them to have title deeds, thus making them legal homeowners.
“Once these erven are serviced, we will definitely start constructing the houses,” said Visser.
A farm owner took New Era to a site where they have completed 58 two- and three-bedroom houses for their employees out of multicore blocks, which is a cheaper version to bricks. “The idea is for our employees to own these houses whereby the housing subsidy they are currently receiving will be redeemed against loans taken out to finance these houses,” the employer explained.
Both Visser and the executive director Shinguadja concurred that with grape companies exporting their produce to foreign countries the farm owners should seriously address the deplorable housing living conditions of their workers since by not ascribing to international humanitarian standards they might risk losing their export permits, as was the case with coal exports to the United Kingdom previously.
Although most workers still live in reed houses it became clear during the meeting that even though they will be provided with decent housing they would not be able to afford the monthly instalments. “We have children, extended families and many other domestic expenses back home and if our housing subsidy will be used as a monthly instalment for owning a house we will not survive financially,” one of the grape farm workers raised the concern. He further felt that those who can afford it should look at the option to rent houses.
Another challenge, according to some farm owners, is to build houses for seasonal workers who only stay on the farms for six months before relocating to their areas of origin.
“It will just not be economically viable to construct houses for these guys,” one of the employers in the grape sector explained.