…Company alerts Govt of plans to dismiss workers
• Workers face the axe as retrenchment looms
• Expatriates under fire from locals
• Retrenchment prompted by ‘economic reasons’
The union representing hundreds of workers at the Walvis Bay-based Elgin Brown and Hamer Namibia(EBH) warned that the company’s plans to retrench workers may lead to labour unrest and instead called for discussions to find a meaningful solution.
While workers across the world joyously marked Workers Day on Sunday, hundreds of EBH workers had to commemorate the day in uncertainty as to whether they will still have a job by the end of this month, after the Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction union which is representing them revealed that EBH is planning to retrench an undisclosed number of workers on 23 May 2016.
Unofficial sources claim as many as 200 workers could be jobless by month end if the retrenchment plan is enacted by the company.
In an official letter sent to government last month, EBH alerted government about the planned retrenchment, saying the move is prompted by the “downturn in the ship repair industry” and said its operational costs are exceeding its monthly sales revenue.
“Elgin Brown and Hamer intends to dismiss employees in terms of section 34(1) of the labor Act, Act 11 of 2007. The dismissals are as a result of decreased work(economic reasons) already experienced over the past five months and predicted to continue for the next 12 months,” reads an official letter dated 19 April 2016 signed written by EBH’s chief executive officer Hannes Uys to the Office of the Labour Commissioner.
Efforts to get hold of the company’s board chairman Kosmas Egumbo to enquire about the timeframe and number of employees to be dismissed proved futile as his mobile phone went unanswered.
EBH provides the international shipping industry, as well as the oil and gas sector, with a full in-house service in aspects of ship repair through its operations in Durban, Cape Town, East London and its sister company, EBH Namibia in Walvis Bay.
The company continues to employ expatriates-who adds surplus weight to the company’s wage bill-while it claims to be cutting costs, a situation which has irked locals.
The union representing the workers-Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction- warned that EBH’s planned retrenchment on 23 May 2016 may lead to labour unrest.
“We believe that this mandate is premature and there are other things that can still be done to reduce spending before the company can start retrenching employees,” said the union.
The union also said the company must get rid of all expatriates before retrenchment negotiations are started.
“The ongoing unprecedented downturn in the ship repair industry requires EBH Namibia to take measures to align operations with a lower volume of business activities. The downturn is directly associated with the decline in oil price and this has resulted in the company’s operational costs exceeding monthly sales revenue, resulting in unsustainable losses incurred by the business,” reads a letter.
Uys said, in order to breakeven, the company conducted an organizational analysis which determined that workers in the executive management, middle management, junior management, artisans, semi-skilled and unskilled categories will face possible retrenchment.
Uys said at this point the exact number of employees to be dismissed is not yet known.
“It will be determined after the company has engaged the recognized union. Once the number of affected employees in the above mentioned categories are finalized, the company will notify the Office of the labour Commissioner accordingly,” said Uys.
Locals have in the past questioned the company’s understudy programme, especially in the mechanical department.
“We belief that the understudy programmes in our department has failed. It is a practice used to blindfold the government and our people are used as bait. The programmes have given promotions and positions to foreign nationals internally,” said the workers in a 2014 petition to which this publication is privy.
The workers further lamented that: “If the company can promote and create high positions for foreign nationals, the time has come for Namibians to be appointed too.”
The workers also allege that some of foreign nationals are employed as welders and diesel mechanics while there are Namibians who are equally capable to do the same work.
Official documents indicate that last year the company employed a large number of expatriates from South Africa, France, Cameroon, Portugal, Romania and Zimbabwe.
They were employed in positions ranging from business development manager, vessel manager, dock manager, production manager, operations project manager, commercial and marketing manager, senior estimator, mechanical fitter amongst others. The locals serve as understudies.
At a meeting held in March between the union and the company to discuss the financial situation of the company, Uys informed the meeting about the ‘financial difficulties’ that the company is facing due to the global oil market crisis.
At the meeting, the workers’ representatives requested management to provide the total amount being paid to all expatriates employed by EBH, a request to which management said it will provide further information at the next meeting.
In order to cut costs, the workers proposed that the company considers suspending the outsourcing of the company’s IT system and that it instead employs an IT expert.
“The issue has been deliberated at previous EXCO levels, the cost of employing an individual may be costly, and that the amount given my include licenses and management of systems,” management responded.
Other systems which the workers want to be addressed is the outsourcing the CCTV management and security services.
A local weekly Informante last week reported that about 500 employees of Elgin Brown & Hamer Namibia took to the streets of Walvis Bay to protest the reality of a looming retrenchment by the company. It was the second time the employees turned to mass action to make their grievances known.
The peaceful demonstration reportedly came after the CEO of EBH Namibia, Hannes Uys, said that the continued slump in the international oil price and the subsequent collapse of the Angolan oil business has lead to the situation where drastic measures, in the form of restructuring, will have to be taken in order for the company to weather the storm.
Informante cited Leeanne Salpeter, in the commercial administrative department of EBH, saying that the main objective of the company is to avoid retrenchment of personnel for as long as possible and that all efforts are being made to rather look at restructuring of the company.
She also reportedly said the negotiation process would start at the end of April and that it might take as long as nine weeks before any clear decisions have been made with regards to the retrenchment of workers and if any will take place at all.