Fishing company suspends ‘tired’ crew
WALVIS BAY – A Walvis Bay-based fishing company this week suspended the entire crew of one of its longliners after all 23 members complained about working conditions on board the Lunan Bay ship.
Abroma’s longline crew have pleaded with the company to reduce their workload, according to a letter seen by New era. Sailors say they have been subjected to long working hours that compromise their health and safety on the ship.
They have worked for Abroma Fishing for three years, but said their working conditions had become unbearable since last December.
Longlining is a method of fishing that involves deploying a large number of short lines carrying hooks, which are attached to a longer mainline at regular intervals. The short lines are suspended horizontally at a predetermined depth using surface floats.
Main lines can be up to 150 kilometers long and have several thousand hooks. According to crew members, they suffer from fatigue and swollen feet because their bodies are not resting enough on the ship.
Their trips at sea last about nine days, and they would sometimes be forced to return to the fishing grounds immediately, instead of taking a few days off. Speaking on behalf of the suspended crew, Ndeipanda Kapolo said yesterday that their shifts sometimes started at 11:00 a.m. and lasted until 6:00 a.m. the next morning.
“As a result, we suffer from fatigue and our feet swell. These long hours also influence our concentration, which is a safety issue for us. We have already approached the company to look into the matter,” he added. Another fisherman explained that during a previous consultation with the company, the workers had asked for the hiring of two additional people. They said the company initially agreed, but backtracked on the decision because it was too expensive. “They say it would cost a lot of money because they would need to change a lot of things on the vessel,” said the fisherman, who requested anonymity. According to the fishermen, Abroma would have agreed to reduce the workload so that they could cope. New era contacted the company yesterday but was told management was engaged in an important meeting. Petrus Uili, a shop steward, said he initially managed around 338 line bins, but after the company agreed, it was reduced to 215.
“The work was wonderful and our hours were normal…until the skipper added additional line containers in December last year,” Uili said. According to him, they discussed the matter with the skipper during their last trip because there was a lot of fatigue among the crew. They were, however, invited to discuss this with the company.
“We waited for our return and approached our human resources department to mediate between us. We did not stop the work, but we asked to settle it before returning to the fishing grounds. The company, instead of fixing the problem, sent security to ask us to disembark the ship,” he said.
The workers under fire received their suspension letters on Monday. According to them, the company recruited new people and the ship left for the fishing grounds.
A letter seen by New era states that the employees have been suspended until further notice, pending an investigation into their alleged misconduct.
“During your period of suspension, you will not be permitted to enter Company premises unless authorized in writing by a senior member of management,” the suspension notice reads. “You will be informed of the charges, if any, in due course, and you will receive a summons to attend a disciplinary hearing. Also, note that your suspension is with full pay and you are still an Abroma employee. Therefore, we reserve the right to notify you to return to your duties.
Meanwhile, Immanuel Festus of the Mining, Metal, Maritime and Construction Workers’ Union said yesterday that offshore employees are only allowed to work at least 14 hours.
Festus explained that the labor law also provides that an employee leaves a workplace in which he feels unsafe or unhealthy to continue working, and that he immediately informs the employer of the reason for which he thinks that it is dangerous or unhealthy to continue working. .
“At this time we have written to the company requesting an immediate meeting as this is an urgent matter which involves occupational health and safety,” he said.