Ramatex On Rack Again
December 17, 2003
Posted to the web December 17,
MALAYSIAN-RUN textile factory Ramatex is
once again being accused of unfair labour practices - this
time by several hundred of its Asian workers.
Filipino workers feel so strongly about
their working conditions that they have sent an appeal to
their government through its South African embassy.
A petition signed by nearly 700
employees cites poor wages, cramped living conditions and
health concerns as their most pressing grievances.
Their concerns peaked last week, when at
least two employees were forced to return to the Philippines
after being declared sick and unfit to work, assertions they
A group of about five were told by the
company nurse that they had contracted hepatitis C - a viral
infection of the liver.
A source told The Namibian that a
manager told employees they had to stop work immediately,
their work contracts were being cancelled and they would be
About 2 000 Asians, mostly Chinese and
Filipinos, work at the garment factories in Otjomuise on the
outskirts of Windhoek.
In the past, labour disputes involving
the factory have centred largely on Namibian workers.
The factory runs separate human resource
departments for its Namibian and foreign employees.
Most of Ramatex Namibia's Asian workers
are recruited abroad.
They have to undergo medical
examinations declaring them fit for work before they can be
employed in Namibia.
Before coming here, they must sign work
contracts valid for at least three years.
Now the disgruntled workers believe the
company is in breach of these agreements.
Some of the workers who were told they
had tested positive for hepatitis C queried the diagnosis,
saying they were given a clean bill of health (one of them
only four months ago) before coming to Namibia.
Hepatitis C is most commonly transmitted
through exposure to infected blood or intravenous drug use.
Often patients have such mild symptoms
that they are unaware that they may be ill.
The Namibian has seen the pathology
report of an employee who was re-tested after being told to
It shows a positive result for the
presence of the hepatitis C antibody - meaning that the
patient may have been previously exposed to the disease but is
not currently infected.
The test is negative for the hepatitis C
antigen - which would indicate the presence of the disease.
An accompanying certificate from the
examining medical practitioner reads: "I examined the
above-mentioned patient today [who] is in good health and has
no acute or chronic disease. Hepatitis antibodies were
Sources indicated to The Namibian that
the group were made to foot the bill for the pathology tests
even though their work contracts stated that the company would
shoulder their medical costs.
Although Ramatex paid for their airfares
home, the workers have apparently not been compensated for
termination of their work contracts.
Responding to inquiries on the matter, a
senior factory manager, Yee Siong-chua, confirmed from
Malaysia yesterday that Ramatex had decided employees who
tested positive for hepatitis C would be sent home at company
But, in a terse written reply, Chua
added: "Under our contract, the company will not bear the
medical cost for employees who contract a sexually transmitted
disease (STD), e.g. hepatitis or venereal [disease]".
Hepatitis C is not typically classified
as an STD.
Transmission through casual contact with
the infected person or through sexual intercourse have been
shown to be rare.
Other employees affected by the decision
have been off work since being told they would be sent home
but are still awaiting details of their proposed repatriation.
This latest incident is just the tip of
Hundreds of other workers are
petitioning their government with grievances about their
treatment by Ramatex.
Most of them live in very cramped
conditions in hostels custom-built to accommodate them.
Many of the workers fear these living
conditions could expose them to contagious diseases.
The living quarters are believed to
house up to eight people to a single room.
In their petition the employees express
concern about the health standards at the canteens where their
food is prepared, saying they could be to blame for some of
On this point, Chua's only comment was:
"The health standard of the canteen is in accordance with
the local statute standard".
The factory is silent on the living
arrangements for most of its Asian workers in Ramatex factory
The dissatisfied group are also
appealing to their government to explore salary-related
They are unhappy with their monthly
basic wage of US$200, which most say they receive in Namibian
With fluctuations in the exchange rate,
those workers say, it leaves them with N$1 400 or so - not
enough for them to live on, according to the petition.
This is especially so, they add, in
light of their liability for any medical costs they incur.
But the company says it it cannot be
liable for fluctuations in their wages as a result of economic
"Employees have the option to be
paid in USD or NAD. The company cannot bear the forex lost on
behalf of workers," says the factory.