…as unpaid workers cry foul
A wave of company closures which has hit Namibia during the last two years, have raised questions about the state of business environment in the country.
A number of small to medium sized enterprises have closed shop underlining the tough challenges that the local business climate poses for investors.
Many of the firms cited a harsh economic climate as the reason for their fall, especially for manufacturers.
At the start of last month, co-founder and Managing Director of Leap Namibia Holdings Ally Angula’s garment factory was the latest victim of the harsh economy after she was forced to close her manufacturing factory at Witvlei.
Leap Namibia Holdings’ Witvlei factory started producing garments for its My Republik branded retail outlet located at the Grove Mall shopping complex in 2015.
Workers have since come out publicly alleging that the company has not paid them their salaries for more than two months.
Operations at the factory were halted on 1 May 2018 after the Witvlei Village Council disconnected the electricity supply over unpaid bills.
Workers approached The Patriot this week with an array of complaints related to salaries, living conditions and unclear future prospects. Some claim they are on the verge of being kicked-out by their landlords because they have not paid rent for more than two months.
About 38 workers are employed at the factory. Some of them live on site while others rent accommodation in Witvlei.“The last time we got paid was in March and when you ask them for your salary, they just tell you to wait. The landlords can no longer deal with the ‘wait story’ and want to kick us out of their places. If you are to return home, what do you take along to the family?” queried one employee who preferred anonymity in fear of being victimised.
“Last time we involved the media, one of our colleagues was fired. Another took the issue with the Labour Commissioner and they too were fired. We really just want our salaries. If she is broke, she must simply tell us and close the factory,” added another worker.
According to the employees, when the factory’s electricity was cut off, they were adviced by the operation manager to stay on and wait. However, some of the employees are said to have left Witvlei.
But while workers have their swords drawn in the direction of the company’s management, Angula said the tough economic climate is to blame for the current predicament.
She explained that the workers were briefed on the current situation as well as the company’s future plans.
Angula said the factory is scheduled to reopen at the beginning of next month. “We are planning to reopen the factory on July 2, provided that the funds we anticipate to acquire is raised. There is obviously no point starting operations when there is no money,” she said.
Angula said the company is cognizant of the plight of the workers and is therefore doing everything it can to find a lasting solution.
“In the interim, we have organized food parcels for them because we know what they are going through,” she said. Angula, who was crowned as the best woman-owned business at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit GES 2015, has been under a barrage of criticism of late. Her business misfortunes comes a few years after President Hage Geingob praised her and used her as an example to spur on other Namibians to walk the entrepreneurial route.
She said the situation at Leap is nothing new to the employees as this is the case with many manufacturing companies in the country at the moment. She added: “I was at the factory in mid-April, by that time we had covered up to February’s payroll. Since the retail down turn started in April 2016, I have personally carried salary costs of N$ 155 000 per month so as to avoid retrenching people. At the insistence of Witvlei Village Council, we were forced to retrench 16 people during August 2017.
I said back then that if there was anybody who cannot withstand the current financial position that we find ourselves in, I will not hold it against them if they left their jobs.
Nobody is saying they will not get paid. Those words have not come out of my mouth. I nicely told everybody that we have gone into a cash flow crunch and we cannot raise working capital. You either stay or get off the machines and leave. The decision that you take[as workers] is entirely up to you, and when we raise money, we will pay the payroll that is due. We would not like to retrench staff as we build up the skills ourselves” said Angula.