May 15, 2006

Malaysian textile giant Ramatex sets ultimatum

Malaysian company Ramatex has told the government to either take over the local company or it will be shut down, leading to the retrenchment of some 5.000 textile workers.
According to the Namibian, Ramatex boss Albert Lim informed the Cabinet that only two options were left: either buy the Namibian company or he would close it down.
"The deadline is set for Monday, 22 May," an official of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), told. "Ramatex said it wanted N$490 million (US$82 million) for the factory and its equipment. If the government does not agree, all workers would be laid off, and the machinery and equipment would be dismantled and shipped out."

In an effort to rescue Namibia's already troubled textile industry, a technical team has been set up under the leadership of Prime Minister Nahas Angula. All stakeholders, including the labour union representatives, are being consulted. "They are in a meeting right now and an announcement will be made when a solution is reached”, said Penda Namuhuja, special assistant to the Prime Minister.

Ramatex set up shop in Namibia in 2002 to produce fabrics for the US market under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), which gave apparel manufactured in African countries preferential access to the US market. The company invested about US$150 million in a manufacturing plant on the western outskirts of Windhoek, the capital, and the municipality provided around $20 million in necessary infrastructure. Complaints about poor wages, unfair labour conditions and dismissals have dogged Ramatex from the start. There were also environmental concerns about groundwater pollution by toxins resulting from the fabric-dyeing process, in contravention of specific instructions laid down by the Windhoek municipality.

According to Kiros Sackarias, acting secretary-general of the Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau), workers earned "peanuts" at Ramatex. "The average salary is about N$400 (US$67) to N$500 (US$83) since Ramatex opened doors, and no increases were made," he explained. Workers there said that they had been left in the dark over their fate, despite meetings with shop stewards and union leaders from the Namibia Food and Allied Workers' Union (Nafau). "They are not clear. Workers demand to be informed of the truth as soon as possible. Workers are tired of this," one told The Namibian.

A year ago 1.600 workers received retrenchment packages after another Malaysian garment company, Rhino Garments, a subsidiary of Ramatex Textiles Namibia, closed its doors when workers protested. (The Namibian, Windhoek)

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