Union protests 'peanut wages'

The union representing construction workers is demanding a 13% pay hike plus a long list of benefits despite the crisis that has led to massive job losses in the industry.

12 October 2017 | Labour

The union battling for a 13% pay raise for construction workers has slammed arguments from the other side of the table, saying the economic woes facing the construction industry should not be used to undercut decent wages.

“The country's economy must not be misused by capitalist benefit, but to a 50/50 benefit (sic),” the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) said in a statement yesterday.

Manwu said the offer of a 2.5% pay increase for construction workers was “an insult” and that their mandate was “to get a fair deal, not a peanut deal”.

Last week, the consulting general manager of the CIF, Bärbel Kirchner, said the Construction Industries Federation of Namibia (CIF) was disappointed that Manwu had made this demand at a time of crisis and mass retrenchments in the industry.

“Revenues in the industry are extremely low, if not non-existent. Many employers keep their teams employed with the hope of work and projects in the near future.

If minimum wages were to increase even further, then many will not be able to keep members of their teams employed.”



She said research conducted by the CIF in June showed that nearly 50% of construction workers had lost their jobs.



“The situation is likely to have worsened since then. Yet, despite large-scale retrenchments since September 2016, the CIF, for now, very reluctantly made an offer of an increase of 2.5% of the minimum wage, in response to the outrageous demand of 13% by Manwu and their very extensive list of demands,” Kirchner said.



In the statement this week, Manwu claimed not to “understand the cry from the CIF team.”



Manwu acknowledged that the wage negotiations were taking place at a challenging time for the industry.



Manwu pointed a finger at the government, which it said “decided to put most of its projects on hold without consulting us workers and employers”.



“We have witnessed massive retrenchments from direct contractors and their supplies and these uncalculated decisions by government made workers victims to poverty and unemployment (sic),” Manwu stated.



In response to the strong headwinds facing the industry, Manwu approached several ministries and local authorities, including the finance and works ministries, the Roads Authority and the City of Windhoek, to share its concerns and identify solutions.



“These engagements were fruitful and we now have a working committee in place between us and these key ministries and authorities.”



It said one of the issues discussed was the government's non-payment of contractors, which had led to the job losses.



The fact that major capital projects were awarded to “foreign investors, especially the Chinese” was also highlighted, Manwu stated.



“We strongly condemn this practice and we requested that the big local contractors should be given preference when mega capital projects are awarded.”



Manwu charged that many foreign contractors exploit their workers and “have no intention to create decent jobs … they are here to make money and leave our workers poor and the country with no money.”



Manwu said the new Procurement Act would hopefully address these issues.



JANA-MARI SMITH

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