Over 100 workers of the Cheetah Cement factory at Otjiwarongo embarked on a strike for better pay yesterday, while the company has threatened retrenchments and reminded workers that they will not be paid during the strike.
The company said an estimated 115 employees may be affected by the intended staff reduction.
Cheetah Cement is owned by Whale Rock Cement (WRC). A statement from WRC general manager Kevin Lee said due to economic circumstances, the company has found that restructuring on operational grounds will result in the optimal utilisation of the remaining workforce.
He added that management has notified all employees, the Office of the Labour Commissioner, and the Mineworkers Union of Namibia of the difficult decision to reduce the workforce at the Cheetah Cement factory.
Management has scheduled a meeting for 3 and 4 August 2022 with the affected employees, their union or their representatives to negotiate on alternatives to retrenchments; criteria for selecting the employees to be retrenched; how to minimise the retrenchments (if possible); conditions on which the retrenchments are to take place; and how to avert the adverse effects of the retrenchments and the severance packages due.
Workers of the company embarked on a strike following protracted but unsuccessful wage negotiations since October 2020 at its Otjiwarongo plant. On 8 February 2022, the majority of the employees voted in favour of industrial action. The company said management and the board have done everything in their power to conclude the protracted wage negotiations, but the union has been adamant with its unrealistic demands. Lee said in a statement issued yesterday afternoon that should the strike continue, one of the rules which shall apply are that the entire duration of the strike shall be unpaid, meaning that any employee who engages in the strike shall not be paid for the duration of the strike.
“No leave days shall be accumulated during the period of the strike. The employer is not obligated to provide any striking employee with transport during the duration of the strike. The employer is not obligated to provide any employee with a meal or payment in substitution of a meal during the entire duration of the strike,” read the other applicable rules in the statement.
MUN’s northern regional organiser Brian Tjihero said in an interview with Nampa that the strike is in compliance with agreed rules.
Employees will thus be gathering at the demarcated picketing area at the entrance of the cement factory.
According to WRC, their offer to workers, which the company said will be backdated to January 2021, includes an 80% company contribution towards employees’ medical aid, a minimum N$500 housing allowance across the board, N$800 salary increase for all employees earning less than N$6 000 per month, and a N$500 salary increase for those earning more than N$6 000 per month. The company is also willing to provide a meal allowance of N$30 per every working day, as well as a shift allowance as per exemption certified conditions, currently at 10% of basic salary, going up to 15% in the next two years as an added benefit.
WRC currently pays an 8% night shift allowance, which the company pointed out is 2% more than that stipulated in the Labour Act 11 of 2007.
WRC earlier in a statement said employees are demanding a 9% salary increase across the board; 15% pension contribution across the board; 100% medical aid cover (including cover for two dependents); an increase of a N$2 500 housing allowance across the board; salary adjustments to market-related salaries; and for these increases to be backdated to April 2020.
-Additional reporting by Nampa