October 19, 2006

Ramatex strike successful

The Malaysian textile company, Ramatex, has bowed to industrial action by Namibian workers demanding better wages and benefits, while its environmental practices again came under scrutiny after revelations that its multimillion dollar plant has polluted ground water.

A 24-hour work stoppage and protest outside the factory gates at the beginning of October, led by high-ranking officials from Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU) and the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), an umbrella organisation for labour unions, brought an offer for higher wages the next day. The workers and Nafau were demanding an average increase of N$3 to N$4 per hour. According to Nafau President Abel Kazondunge, apart from the N$1,10 increase, the company also agreed to provide medical aid to the workers. He said investigations to find the appropriate medial aid for the 3.000 workers have been put in motion and it has been agreed that Ramatex will contribute 70% to the fund while the employee will contribute 30%. The union president added that the company agreed to provide a pension of 5% for all its employees as well as N$100 per month for transport. The workers at Ramatex who did not have a single fringe benefit before will also be provided with a N$150 per month housing allowance. Kazondunge also said the new benefits, which are effective from 1 October, would definitely contribute to an improvement in the working conditions of the workers. He said it should be very clear to any investor coming to Namibia that there is a Labour Act in place which must be respected. "The workers' unions in Namibia will not support cheap labour as Ramatex wants and if they think they can do it here, they are wrong."

Before the strike action it was also revealed that Windhoek's municipality had assumed the wastewater management of Ramatex was to blame for polluted water which from its dye plant seeped into the ground water. However, it is still not officially known who will pay for this service and whether the company is facing fines for polluting the ground water. The state broadcaster, Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), reported in a radio bulletin that the affected groundwater was confined to the area near the textile plant. "We have found that the seepage is only in the immediate vicinity," said Ndangi Katoma, the spokesperson for the city of Windhoek. "We will soon manage the waste management, such as sludge removal and the recycling plant there, as soon contract details are finalised," the NBC quoted Katoma as saying. Bertchen Kohrs, spokesperson for the environmental organisation, Earthlife Namibia, a branch of Earthlife Africa, said that at last the authorities had taken note of their repeated warnings over the past four years. "Our worst fears have come true - the underground aquifer is now polluted," she said Kohrs. The affected area is next to the capital's water reclamation plant and close to a major aquifer. (New Era / The Namibian, Windhoek)

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