Windhoek: Chinese construction companies have, for the first time in the past 22 years, come under fire from the highest authority in Namibia, a warning which, according to stakeholders, was long overdue. President Hifikepunye Pohamba could not choose a better time to express his displeasure with Chinese construction companies than on May Day workers celebrations at Rundu yesterday.
During his address Pohamba did not mince words in telling employers to treat their workers better, but also warned the workers not to engage in illegal strikes and to exercise their rights in a responsible manner. However he also made use of the opportunity to lecture construction companies, urging for fair treatment of workers and compliance with relevant laws and regulations in the construction industry.
"Companies in all sectors should desist from importing labourers to perform unskilled work, because these tasks can be performed by Namibians. Employers who do not comply with our laws must be called to order. As President of this country, I do not condone the violation of our laws."
This came shortly after the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) wrote a letter to the President complaining about Chinese construction companies. In the letter the union listed eight companies, which combined, employ over a 1 000 young Chinese men and women which, the unions say, violates the labour laws of Namibia.
The companies are China Henan International Corporation, China Hengton Construction, China Jiangsu International, China Jiangxi International, China Nanjing International, New Era Investment, Jiangsu Zhegtai Group and Jiangsu Zengtail Construction.
The Equity Commissioner, Vilbard Usiku, told The Namibian yesterday that his office received several complaints about Chinese construction companies employing unskilled Chinese nationals. He said the mandate of his office is to ensure that Namibian nationals are employed as understudies for foreign workers and should provide him with a report in this regard.
"The Chinese companies informed us that their nationals are in positions such as head painters or head bricklayers and they have obtained work permits to execute these jobs which we do not have a scarcity in Namibia. I don't know how these permits were issued and was already in contact with the Ministry of Home Affairs on the issue. However I welcome the President's gesture and hope that Home Affairs officials will also be cognisant of it."
The Secretary General of the Namibia Employers Federation (NEF), Tim Parkhouse, told The Namibian that the Federation raised several concerns over the appointment of unskilled Chinese labourers for the past three to four years. "We are pleased to hear at last that the President is confirming our concerns. The Namibian workers can and will be able to do any work on a building site and should therefore be given preference."
In the meantime, Chinese companies and their nationals have expanded to such an extent in Windhoek, that the construction companies have built its own village for their workers, a compound which also accommodates the Chinese Embassy. This village is situated in the luxury Ludwigsdorf residential area with more than six entrances, stretching from Hebenstreit Street to the corner of Rautenbach Street. Strict security measures with a number of surveillance cameras have been installed.