THE Office of the Labour Commissioner at Walvis Bay has slapped ArcticNam Fishing, which was managed by Fishrot-linked Iceland company Samherji, with a N$1,8 million fine to compensate 23 Namibian fishermen who were retrenched in 2018.
ArcticNam was established in 2013 between the Icelandic firm Samherji HF and a Namibian group of fishing quota beneficiaries Sinco Fishing, Epango Fishing and Yukor.
The fine comes two weeks after Samhejri apologised for its conduct in Namibia. The fishermen were permanent employees on the Heinaste horse mackerel trawler. After their retrenchment, the fishermen were replaced by another group on a contract basis.
The employee representative Immanuel Ipinge alleged that they were systematically retrenched as the vessel sailed out the following week with a new crew.
“All permanent employees were told to remove their bags and disembark the vessel. Since then we never returned to work,” said Ipinge.
Maxine Krohne, the arbitrator in the labour ministry, ordered the company to pay the fishermen for loss of income for the 12 months of 2019. The fishermen sought to be rewarded for loss of income, which includes fish commission and housing allowances.
“Unfortunately, an arbitrator cannot award an allowance or commission not worked for. In terms of section 86(15), the arbitrator can only award reinstatement and, or loss of income,” said Krohne.
The employees will be compensated as follows: 18 factory workers will get N$73 080 each, two deckhands (N$79 164 each), one motorman (N$157 500) while two carpenters will get N$97 380 each.
ArcticNam has until 31 July to settle its dues. The fishermen are now part of the 600 who were absorbed by Cavema Fishing Joint Venture initiative where they are receiving N$4 000 a month while at home.
The employees were represented by unionist Fillupus Munenguni.
“The company management decided to unilaterally pay out the employees without any intervention of unions or the ministry of labour,” explained Munenguni who said ArcticNam will have to compensate the fishermen as its Namibian operations have not been winded up like the rest of the Samherji companies.
ArcticNam board chairperson Virgilio de Sausa told The Namibian he had received the ruling but the company does not have the funds to pay the fishermen because it is dormant, having stopped operations towards the end of 2018.
“ArcticNam is liable to pay that, but has no assets and no funds. We are trying to get money from the Icelandic company for their mismanagement of the company,” he said.
De Sausa said Namibian shareholders currently have a dispute with the Icelandic shareholders because they were not happy with the way the company was managed. Although the Namibians were the majority shareholders (51%) the company was run by the Samherji people.
De Sausa added that the Namibian shareholders are backing the fishermen and they will assist them in getting the payouts from the Icelanders. The Namibian shareholders will this week discuss their implication in the matter.
“We know as a board we have some liabilities. We will have to sit with the fishermen and the union to see how we can resolve the matter,” he added.
De Sausa added that in the board meeting that decided the retrenchment of the workers, the Namibian shareholders requested that all fishermen should receive appropriate severance payouts.
Fishrot whistleblower Jóhannes Stefánsson added that Samherji staff that managed ArcticNam did not respect the fishermen, their well-being, salaries and contracts.
“It’s unacceptable how they were retrenched. I hired most of them when I was there and they are very good people and very good fishermen. How they were treated is unacceptable and very unfair,” he said.
Saherji’s Egill Helgi Árnason was in charge of the company. He, Ingvar Júlíusson, Egill and Adalsteinn Helgason, face extradition to Namibia on allegations of bribery and corruption involving more than N$3 billion in the Fishrot investigation.