Namibia: Construction Workers Stand Up to Chinese Firm

Construction workers employed by New Era Investment took to the streets yesterday in a wildcat strike in an attempt to force the construction firm’s management to comply with their demands for better terms and conditions of employment.

In a letter dated March 1 2011, the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) set out its demands for better working conditions for its members, and set the construction firm a deadline of March 18 for a response.

Justine Jonas, Manwu project coordinator, and a number of Manwu shop-stewards met with Ryen Chen, New Era Investment manager, on March 11 to discuss the issues set out in the letter.

At the March 11 meeting, Jonas repeatedly warned Chen that the construction firm’s reluctance to agree to the union’s demands would be met with “serious action”.

To date, neither Manwu or the workers have received any feedback from the construction firm regarding their demands, which Manwu says are based on the provisions of the Namibian Labour Act. Jonas has told The Namibian that Manwu feels that the construction firm is not complying with labour law.

The Namibian spoke to a number of employees who engaged in the wildcat strike outside the construction firm’s premises and was told that the workers would not return to work unless a solution to the situation was found.

Chen allegedly phoned one of the workers and asked him why they had engaged in the labour action. When the worker told his employer their reasons for refusing to work, Chen apparently told the man that New Era Investment had written a letter to Manwu indicating that the construction firm would be discussing the union’s demands with its lawyer on March 31.

The worker, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told The Namibian that Chen had said that they could go inside and get a copy of the letter.

“We are tired, we will not go and get the letter, it is a piece of paper which is meaningless,” the disgruntled worker said.

Despite the fact that the strike was not sanctioned by the union, the workers participating were Manwu members, and Bernard Milinga, Secretary General of the union, addressed the workers.

Milinga urged the workers not to return to work unless their demands were met. “We are sick and tired, for a long time, since 2007 or 2006, but they do not want to adhere to Namibian law. This is our chance,” the Manwu secretary general said.

Milinga told The Namibian that although the worker action was restricted to Windhoek yesterday, he would have a meeting with the union’s leadership later in the day where he would call for a nationwide strike.

Milinga said that Manwu’s action would not be limited to New Era Investment or Chinese construction firms alone, but would be directed at all building contractors who fail to comply with labour law.

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