Chinese construction companies in Namibia have been hit by a series of worker strikes over poor pay, job discrimination and lack of jobsite health and safety protections.
Construction of the $49-million, 231-kilometer Otjinene-Okondjatu trunk road by China Henan International Cooperation Group (Chico) was disrupted in November after more than 80 Namibian workers protested safety conditions.
The workers accused Chico of ferrying them in overcrowded and non-roadworthy open trucks and claimed the firm was using an outdated stone crusher that forced them to go inside it "to remove stuck stones,” exposing them to danger.
Lack of walkways also has exposed them to the risk of “plunging to death,” the workers claimed.
The Chico workers’ protest followed a September strike that involved workers of another Chinese contractor, China Harbour Engineering Co., on the $342-million Walvis Bay Container Terminal project, underway by Namibia’s state-owned port operator Namport to expand container-port capacity.
More than 100 Namibian workers accused the Chinese firm of discriminating against them by providing its roughly 200 Chinese migrant workers with food at the workplace and rejecting the African workers' demands for permanent contracts, forcing them to sign monthly contracts. The workers also protested taxation of their pay.
Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union spokesman Enwich Kazondu said the workers lack social-security protections and are denied transportation allowances enjoyed by their Chinese counterparts.
However, Namport spokeswoman Liz Sibindi issued a statement saying the strike is illegal “since no prior notice was given.”
China Harbour denied the allegations, claiming the company "respects every employee and adheres to the stipulations of Namibian law.”
A company spokeswoman said, in a statement, that the firm "dismissed one worker, who stole from our campsite." She added, "Contracts for the Namibian employees were coming to an end, which we consequently terminated."