More than 300 workers at Furnmart and Home Corp’s 34 branches in Namibia were yesterday set to decide on a group-wide strike, following a dispute over working conditions, BusinessWeek has established.
Furnmart, headquartered and listed in Botswana, is a leading regional furniture retailer, which also has 36 branches in South Africa and 49 in Botswana. The group’s Namibian workers, however, accuse the group of importing an intolerant approach to labour relations from Botswana to Namibia and running local operations based on ‘attitudes’ in the Botswana headquarters.
According to documents shared with BusinessWeek, workers in Namibia have a litany of grievances including ‘injustice at work, low wages, unfavourable conditions of employment and lack of proper representation’.
However, the issue that has broken the camel’s back is management’s alleged denial of a loan arrangement for employees there.
“One of the burning issues which workers prioritised was the issue of having access to a loan facility,” read a document from the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union, a representative organisation. “Workers requested the company to just facilitate the loan service which means just to administer, by deducting money from their salary and pay it over to the institution. This simple request was turned down by Furnmart and Home Corp, with the reason that it is a burden to their administration. No other reason but only ‘burden’.” The Union added: “Let us warn the management, investors or would-be investors that targeting profits, milking profits from this country and shipping it back to your country of origin while leaving your employees going hungry does not make you a big company and most definitely does not make Furnmart an investment friendly company.”
The Union’s deputy general secretary, Enwich Kazondu told BusinessWeek the labour organisation had written to Furnmart’s Gaborone headquarters without response on the grievances. He said the Union would be polling workers at the 34 branches on whether to launch strike action and when.
“It will be for the workers to say they want to down tools and when. They’re the ones who know, for instance, when sales could be most affected. We will be balloting them on the strike starting on Thursday and going to each branch individually,” he said.
Kazondu said the Union had noted the crossover of intolerance towards labour organisations from Furnmart headquarters to Namibia.
“It could be that this comes from the labour relations attitude in Botswana,” he told BusinessWeek.
“Compare the two countries and you’ll see that Namibia is more tolerant to unions than Botswana. They are coming with that approach and attitude to Namibia thinking that they will get away with murder. However, we will not allow them to do what they are doing there, here.”
Furnmart officials in Windhoek and Gaborone did not respond to BusinessWeek’s questions, although officials in the neighbouring country indicated they were aware of the industrial unrest./Mmegi Business Weekly