Over 120 lose jobs at Stina Wu’s project

An unfolding construction saga in Rundu has claimed the jobs of 120 workers.

03 June 2020 | Labour

KENYA KAMBOWE

RUNDU

About 120 people lost their jobs yesterday after a fallout between Chinese-born business magnate Stina Wu and a subcontractor that labour inspectors found to have underpaid his workers.

The workers were employed by Northernland Civil Engineering, a subcontractor whose contract to Wu’s Helmsman Group for a housing project was terminated yesterday after a blame game ensued in front of police and labour inspectors.

Northernland was found to have failed to provide protective gear to its workers, whom it also underpaid.

The company then alleged that it was underpaying its workers because Wu’s Helmsman Group owed it money.

Allegations of the use of inferior sand in the building process also surfaced as houses are being constructed with loam soil, something that building inspectors say compromises the quality of the house.

No written contract exists between Northernland Civil Engineering and Helmsman Group, onlookers heard yesterday.

There only exists a verbal agreement for Northernland Civil Engineering to complete the project after the initial subcontractor was fired from the project which left many jobless, Namibian Sun learnt.

Wu’s Kaisosi housing project, known as Sunshine Village, is being constructed on the outskirts of Rundu in Kaisosi.

Labour inspectors initially visited the site on Friday last week accompanied by police and found that Northernland was not compliant in that its workers did not have personal protective equipment (PPE).

Yesterday Northernland Civil Engineering managing director Immanuel Shilongo explained that the reason why his employees were not in possession of safety gear was because there was nothing available in the local shops and he had ordered from another town which only arrived on Monday.

The labour inspectors, Rundu Town Council health and building inspectors accompanied by the police yesterday revisited the site and did another inspection on the workers to see to it that they have the personal protective equipment (PPE).

The inspectors were 80 percent satisfied, which saw them give Northernland Civil Engineering the go-ahead to continue with the development.

RIPPING OFF WORKERS

However, the labour inspectors were informed by the workers that they are underpaid, something which sparked a second inspection, this time of the books of Northernland Civil Engineering.

Upon inspecting the books, labour inspector Dennis Nghitomoka discovered that the general workers were being paid N$12 per hour while the minimum wage is N$16 per hour.

Bricklayers were being paid N$25 per square metre instead of the N$34.21 per hour minimum wage for skilled bricklayers. Semi-skilled bricklayers are supposed to be paid N$22.34 per hour.

Nghitomoka then asked Northernland’s Shilongo why he was underpaying the workers, to which he responded that the principal contractor, Wu’s Helmsman Group, was not paying them enough therefore they decided to pay the workers N$12 per hour.

Upon hearing Shilongo’s public response, an irate Wu then stood up and started spilling the beans as to how her company was paying Northernland Civil Engineering and she would not take blame if workers were not paid as required by the labour laws.

Despite Wu’s stance Shilongo insisted that Helmsman Group owes them a lot of money.

The debate got heated, which prompted Wu having to call her finance department to clear the air while Shilongo on the other hand pulled out statements to support his claim.

When asked about the bill of quantities and how she pays the subcontractor, Wu indicated that she pays based on the invoices presented to her company.

“I paid them according to what they ask; I have the proof,” Wu said.

Asked to provide copies of the invoices as she was showing the proof of payment records, Wu could not do so.

After back-and-forth accusations, the two parties (Helmsman Group and Northern Civil Engineering) had a meeting behind closed doors. Minutes later they came out and informed the workers about the decision to terminate the agreement, resulting in job losses.

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