TransNamib has called the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (Natau) back to the negotiation table, hoping to bring an end to the strike that threatens to bring the embattled railway carrier to its knees.
On Thursday, the company wrote to the bargaining union, asking for an engagement on employees’ wages, which was one of the reasons why workers downed tools. “This communication serves to confirm that management has been provided with a new mandate by the TransNamib board of directors to engage Natau on the protracted wage negotiations,” said human capital executive Webster Gonzo in a letter. The company has requested that while negotiations are ongoing, Natau should suspend the strike until such a time that an agreement on wages is reached.
However, the union’s secretary general Narina Pollmann on Thursday wrote back, saying it will not cease the strike.
“We are available and ready to commence with negotiations even today because we do not want this matter to be protracted any longer as it has already been,” said Pollmann then. The negotiations are expected to commence today.
The workers have been on strike for two weeks after the union and TransNamib reached a deadlock during salary negotiations after the company said it did not have funds to effect an increase.
The company suffered a further setback when both board chairperson Lionel Matthews and his deputy Sigrid Tjijorokisa resigned from their positions on the same day, 17 August 2022 .
Their resignations stem from a disagreement over the extension of the contract of CEO Johny Smith, and the alleged muzzling of a forensic report by Ernst and Young (EY) into the management of the company.
In her resignation letter addressed to Minister of Finance Ipumbu Shiimi, Tjijorokisa objected to the renewal of the contract of Smith for another five years, a view the chairperson disagreed with.
Matthews said he was resigning as he would not allow his reputation and his character to be drawn into question.
EY was commissioned to investigate certain irregularities within the national railway company last year. However, that report has not officially been released as
yet. Tjijorokisa indicated in the letter that on 4 March 2022, the then Minister of Public Enterprises Leon Jooste informed her that “many of the allegations forming the
subject matter of this investigation are relevant”.
This communication has been shared
with the board, she added.
Subsequent to this, the report was handed over to the new chairperson (Matthews), and she alleged that the chairperson elected not to share this report with the board.
In his resignation letter, however, Matthews said the EY report is still not finalised.
The employees in 2019 requested a salary increase of 18% for workers who fall within the A band, 15% for those within the B band, and 13% for the C band.
This offer was rejected by TransNamib.
The employees went back to the drawing board and reduced their demands. They presented the company with three options: firstly, a salary increase of 15% for employees within the A band, 13% for the workers falling within the B band, and 9% for those within the C band.
In the second option, the employees
were willing to settle for an increase of 7% for the A band, 5.5% for the B band, and 3.5% for the C band.
The last option presented by the workers in October 2021 was for the organisation to give a salary increase of 7% across the board.
During the ongoing strike, the rail parastatal has accused the employees of not adhering to strike rules, and on 19 August opened a case of malicious damage to property in Walvis Bay.
According to a police report, suspects cut open three vacuum tanker pipes on a train with unknown objects.
The damage has affected the mobility of the train. The value of the properties damaged is N$330 000. No one has been arrested in connection with the allegations.
The employees denied claims that they allegedly violated strike rules at Tsumeb, Walvis Bay, Windhoek and Keetmanshoop.
The workers were reacting to a media statement issued by the company, pointing at them allegedly having intimidated, harassed and damaged company equipment at the four train stations when they found some non-striking employees performing official duties there.
“Bullying, intimidation and harassing of any non-striking worker or damaging company equipment is an absolute violation of the strike rules, and as such, we will now use the legal recourse to remedy the matter,” TransNamib vowed in a media statement.
-Additional reporting by Nampa