Samherji explains retrenchments


27 February 2020 | Fishing

Bjørn Richard Johansen; Samherji spokesperson; "All crewmembers will be offered the opportunity to negotiate retrenchment packages"

Walvis Bay • [email protected]

The workers on the Geysir currently fishing in Mauritania, are the only ones to keep their jobs while the rest will be retrenched, according to Samherji – the company embroiled in the Fishrot corruption scandal.

About 210 fishermen who previously worked on the Geysir and a second vessel, the Saga, will be retrenched next month.
In reaction to the news, Namibian fishermen on board the Geysir who are currently fishing in Mauritania, also issued a statement.

“We have signed a 3-month contract and agreed to salaries we believe are fair and satisfactory. We are prepared to extend our current contracts if necessary. We are on board voluntarily, we are treated well and the crew is in good spirits. We have access to our families.”

In a previous article by Erongo, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) vice president Phillip Munenguni said that they were trying to make contact with the workers currently in Mauritania.

According to the workers no one from the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) or Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) has tried to contact them or their families.

Samherji spokesperson Bjørn Richard Johansen said that the first step in the retrenchment process for the crewmembers on Geysir that were not hired for the operation in Mauritania as well as the crewmembers on Saga, took place on Monday, 24 February.

“All crewmembers will be offered the opportunity to negotiate retrenchment packages which will honour their rights according to the Namibian Labour Act.”

He said that crewmembers of the Heinaste that were retrenched in 2018 have received payments according to a resolution passed unanimously by the board of directors of Articnam Fishing on 3 December 2018.

“This resolution was supported by representatives of all the Namibian shareholders in Articnam Fishing. This had been discussed earlier by the board during a meeting on 24 October 2018 as stated in the minutes from the meeting. All payments have been done according to the Namibian Labour Act.”

Not negotiated

However, Munenguni is adamant that the retrenchment packages were not negotiated.

“These employees lost their homes and their cars. They were not given priority when the vessel was chartered to Saga Seafood. The company recruited casuals whom they exploited for the whole 2019 and these casuals worked without any contract.”

In an agreement signed by the two unions and the workers of the vessels earlier this month, it was requested that Samherji top management be present at the meeting held on Monday. However, no one arrived.

Samherji interim CEO Björgólfur Johannsson said that it is normal for companies in these types of situations to have local representatives, which is what Samherji and the affiliated companies did.

“The CEO or managing directors rarely attend meetings with unions. It is also important to keep in mind that our Namibian representatives and advisors have a better understanding of the local legal framework and the case at hand and the group’s executives have full confidence in them. Still, we understand why the CEOs presence was requested but unfortunately, he could not fly from Iceland to attend this meeting.”

On the question of how Samherji will correct the injustice done to Namibian people, he said that Samherji is committed to fair business practices.

“For this reason, Samherji initiated an internal investigation into accusations against the company in mid-November with the assistance of the international law firm Wikborg Rein in Norway. This process focuses on getting a clear and unbiased overview of the facts. The team handling the investigation hopes to produce its findings in April.”

Johannsson said that the group has been active in the Namibian fisheries industry since 2012 and invested heavily in the sector during that period.

“Samherji’s exit from Namibia started in late November 2018 when the partnership with the Namibian JV’s in the company Articnam Fishing was not renewed. The partnership was based on a 5-year contract. Before the contract expired at the end of 2018, the partners were notified it would not be extended. Samherji’s divestment in Namibia is therefore a process that began at the end of 2018. As previously stated, the group will honour all its obligations toward employees in Namibia.”

Johannsson said that Samherji is in close dialogue with all their stakeholders in every place the company operates.

“All decisions regarding the group’s exit from Namibia were made in collaboration with the Namibian authorities. We believe Namibian society in general will benefit greatly if we can get the factory trawler Heinaste in operation in Namibia. The vessel has been detained again by the Namibian authorities.”

According to him the purpose of Heinaste remaining in Namibia was to conclude a charter or sale to local operators with the object of preserving the jobs of local fishermen.

“Great interests are at stake for our Namibian partners in the company that owns Heinaste, the crew on the vessel and their families. We are open to any ideas to solve the issue and we hope to engage representatives of the Namibian authorities in discussions to achieve that goal.”

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