Port casuals vow to stay

13 February 2017 | Local News

The Namibian Ports Authority (Namport) informed more than 250 casual workers on Wednesday last week that their services would no longer be needed in Walvis Bay.

A manpower analysis exercise performed by the company found the casual labour to be an unnecessary expense.

The workers lodged a complaint against Namport at the Labour Commissioner's office. They also converged and set up camp outside Namport's offices on Thursday after they learned of their fate via a memorandum signed by Namport's human resources executive Dr Felix Musukubili.

On Friday Namport CEO Bisey Uirab said it was inappropriate and unhygienic for the workers to camp in front the company offices.

He explained that casual workers never had formal employment contracts with Namport, but were utilised on an ad hoc basis dependent upon fish volumes.

“We have not embarked on a retrenchment exercise, but simply ceased to render fish repacking services.

“We are directly exposed to all developments which have a bearing on volumes of trade across the world, the bulk of which is conveyed via the sea. The recent slump in commodity and oil prices, the strengthening of the US dollar against the local currency and increasing interest rates have resulted in a steep decline in imports and exports and consequently the volumes of cargo throughput.”

He explained that certain Namport operations given their seasonality and fluctuations in throughput volumes were manned by causal workers who were sourced when needed with most of them notably deployed in repacking fish at the port.

“This operation was handled by the port authority on behalf of owners of the fish over the years. However, as part of the ongoing cost containment drive and following an in depth cost benefit analysis it was considered untenable to continue rendering the fish handling service on behalf of the fishing companies. We therefore resolved to discontinue this service with effect from 1 February and subsequently notified casual workers.”

According to Uirab, Namport has been undertaking various cost streamlining and efficiency enhancement initiatives. Port operations executive Raymond Visagie confirmed a pool of 259 workers are affected by the decision.

“Only casuals involved in the fish repacking operations at Namport in Walvis Bay are affected. Casual deployment is confined to Walvis Bay operations only and on average we used to deploy approximately 48 casual on a day as and when required.

Namport put a temporary moratorium on calling “casual employees” while it carried out a manpower needs assesment to determine whether or not continue utilising “flexible labour” where necessary and if so what the exact numbers required for such operations on 3 February were.

According to some of the affected casuals, they went for interviews on 27 June 2016 and Namport promised them that 100 successful candidates amongst 156 will be recruited within four days. This never materialised.

The casuals said they attended a meeting on 3 February and were once again promised by Musukubili and Visagie that the names of the successful candidates will be released on Wednesday. They were however notified that their services are no longer needed on 8 February.

“Instead of releasing the names of the 100 selected candidates Namport is now giving our work to private companies. We never had adequate notification of the company's intentions and served it for periods between five and ten years. We used to work 12 hours per day. This was reduced to two six-hour shifts,” said some of the casuals.

Uirab said that there was potential and a possibility for appointment but cargo owners and agents engaged on the issue opted not to go this route.

According to the casuals, they worked on a no-work, no-pay basis and without any guarantee.

“Our overtime rate was less than that earned by regular employees.”

They say Visagie approached them on the day the six-hour shifts were implemented and informed them that they are a burden to the company due to the huge amount of overtime they earn.

The casuals say they were surprised to learn that they were supposed to earn N$106 per hour on Sunday according to Visagie.

“Our normal rate was N$53. We earned N$49 on a Saturday and N$66 on Sundays and never received N$106 for work on Sundays and N$79 on Saturdays.”

Uirab refuted this and said the casuals were paid according to the provisions of the Labour Act.

“The rates they received were probably the best. They were treated extremely well,” he concluded.

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