Sardarov’s workers on a warpath

Rashid Sardarov’s lawyer, Sisa Namandje, has denied allegations of abuse and unfair labour practices, saying his client is a big and important investor in the country and respects the rights of its employees, and at all relevant times acted in accordance with the law.

16 June 2020 | Labour

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK

A group of former farmworkers at Marula Game Lodge outside Windhoek, which belongs to Russian billionaire Rashid Sardarov, are claiming unfair labour practices and human rights abuses. Five workers were dismissed.

Sardarov was controversially granted a 99-year lease for four farms he purchased and then donated to the Namibian government in 2018. This was after he bought several farms in the Dordabis area measuring 28 000 hectares (around 28 000 football fields) in 2013 through his Switzerland-based company Comsar Properties SA.

The state-of-the-art ranch known as Marula Game Ranch was built on the land.

Rashid’s lawyer, Sisa Namandje, has denied the allegations of abuse and unfair labour practices.

He said his client is a big and important investor in the country and respects the rights of its employees, and at all relevant times acted in accordance with the law.

Went blind

One of the workers, Karel Amid, says he was bitten by a snake and went blind in one eye but the farm manager refused to sign documents to confirm that he was injured on duty.

According to documents from the Windhoek Central Hospital stamped on 19 September2017, Amib was admitted to the hospital for conservative management and treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatories.

The prognosis was very poor and his left eye was blinded.

“Patient was removing a stone under the trailer and the snake spat into his left eye,” the medical document reads.

No days off

Another worker, Isak Gomaxab, claims he was dismissed in December 2019 and prohibited from entering the premises after he had taken off a few hours to travel to Windhoek to withdraw his December salary.

“We do not get weekends off and it takes very long to apply for leave, but I needed to get food for me and my mother so I went to Windhoek. When we returned, we were told to leave the place immediately.

“We were then called again on 13 January this year and told to sign some documents. When we refused Mr Kotze threatened us with a gun and forced us to sign. We were afraid of dying to so we just signed the papers,” he said.

The group of workers, who have since been dismissed, accuse farm manager Johan Kotze of threatening them with dismissal if they approached the farm owner.

Another worker, who spoke through Stinkwater community leader Angelika Garises, said he was involved in a car accident involving Sardarov in 2015 and broke his ribs and a finger but was not paid any compensation.

“The accident took place at night, and some of us were really hurt and had broken our ribs and fingers. They promised to compensate us and to pay for our medical treatment but it never materialised,” he said.

Union’s hands tied

The Tourism and Allied Workers Union of Namibia (TAWUN) president, Ben Petrus, says all his attempts to meet with Kotze to find a solution for the workers have failed.

He claimed to have been removed from the premises on Wednesday, despite having agreed with Kotze to meet on that day.

“The people are suffering and he does not want to meet with us. He is refusing now for months to set down a time for a meeting. He told me that we could meet on Wednesday, when I arrived there, he said he had not given me a time so he was not available to meet. We were locked out of the premises,” he said.

‘Pure lies’

Namandje, speaking on behalf of Sardarov, said affected employees were put through fair and valid disciplinary processes, and were dismissed after they were found guilty of serious disciplinary misconduct.

Namandje also rejected Amin’s claim that he had been bitten by a snake whilst on duty. He said “something” went into the eye.

“In an attempt to remove that from his eye Mr Amib unlawfully and recklessly went into our client’s workshop and used a compressor to remove the item from his eye, thereby aggravating a small inconvenience in his eye.

“There are therefore no medical papers available, and Mr Amib never brought medical papers to our client’s Mr Kotze for such to be signed. There was, further, no order by any recognised tribunal for our client to compensate Mr Amib,” he said.

Namandje also dismissed the union leader’s claims, saying Petrus had in fact threatened to use the media as a weapon against Sardarov in an attempt to force through terms he wanted to negotiate for union members.

“Our client is a big and important investor in the country and respects the rights of its employees, and at all relevant times acted in accordance with the law. Our client has acted in accordance with the law and shall not be forced into making compensation to anyone simply on the basis of a threat of publication of defamatory allegations,” Namandje said.

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