I CANNOT but say I saw it coming! I am referring to media reports earlier this week quoting one of the members of the newly commissioned Wages Commission for Domestic Workers being disappointed by the “disappointing involvement” of employers in the sessions of the Commission currently underway in various towns of the country.
In fact, such lack of involvement is not surprising at all going by the chronic lack of interest and indifference by civil society in the work of previous hearings.
One is only reminded of early this year of the hearings into amendments to the Electoral Act, where interest from the public, civil society and even politicians or lawmakers seemed indifferent, if non-existent.
This is despite outcries regarding the conduct and administration of elections from the public in general, politicians and the opposition political parties, in particular, in view of experiences from the past regarding public hearings, including parliamentary ones.
Even the implementation outcomes of some of these hearings have been an anti-climax with little meaningful effect on the lives of people, like the Kameeta Commission on the condition of farm workers.
Thus, one could not but be concerned that any future hearings may not invite due interest, and the recommendations not implemented.
The Amathila Commission started its work on Monday, 25 June. But prior to this, there had been little word about the imminence of its sessions.
Perhaps one should give it the benefit of the doubt that in the towns where it started with its sessions, the locals through local information networks, may have been informed about its public sessions, and more importantly the importance of players, and the general public, to get involved in such sessions and its commission and mission. But as far as news or information to the general public countrywide concerning such sessions, there had been little word or information, even in the media.
Thus it is not surprising to hear one of the Commission’s members, Veronica de Klerk, re-gistering her disappointment with the “disappointing involvement” of employers in the sessions of the Commission.
One cannot but once again emphasise the importance of the Amathila Commission in helping streamline the law as far as it relates to the wages and working conditions of domestic assistants.
There is no denying the need for the betterment of their wages and living conditions, which are archaic and not fit for humans.
In fact, it is an eye opener to hear that only about 12 000 domestic employees are registered with the Social Security Commission (SSC) of a potential 30 000 such employees. This means that a substantial number of them are not currently benefiting from the country’s safety net.
Yes, as is habitually the case with unknown changes or change towards the unknown, there may be deep-rooted fear among domestic employers about the eventual recommendations of the Amathila Commission, and the ensuing law, which may include a minimum wage. But this is to bring it in line with international standards, especially the International Labour Organisation Standards adopted by the International Labour Conference, which Namibia is party to.
Those who may have fears, real or imagined about the laws in this regard and the changes they may herald, are better reminded that it is in the best interest of the domestic employment industry that the rights and freedoms, and especially the living conditions, of domestic helps are duly recognised and are brought on par with the rights and freedoms of all citizens of Namibia.
This is if, in the long term, Namibia is to maintain peace and tranquility. We must be well aware that currently the labour situation in the country has been treading on thin ice.
The result thereof has been a sluggish foreign direct investment flow within the country’s economy. Thus the country, and her economy, can ill-afford such precariousness of the labour situation with its resultant knock-on effect on the economy with possible repercussions on the political stability of the country.
Thus it is in the interest of all to provide the Amathila Commission with the necessary input. Not to mention the crucial involvement of employers in this all-important sector of the economy in the sessions of the Commission.
As I have already pointed out previously, the Commission itself needs to do more that just having sessions. Part of its missions besides making the public aware of its existence and presence, is to make the public aware of its role in helping to improve the living conditions of domestic helps eventually through the adoption of relevant legislation.
This is a role that the Commission can fulfill effectively with the involvement, crucially, of the media, to heighten the awareness of the public about its existence, its relevance and its presence in their communities and localities.
And mostly the importance of the public’s involvement in the sessions of the Commission. It is crucial that the Commission and the various leaders, traditional, community, religious, and within labour and the industry, psyche the public towards the sessions of the Commision. Not so that the sessions are packed for its own sake but so that local structures become the necessary vehicles for communities’ involvement in the sessions of the Commission.
So that communities define and relay the working conditions of domestic workers and submitting such to the Commission. Otherwise, we shall be having capacity in terms of numbers but empty in content in terms of informing the Commission about the wages and employment conditions of domestic workers.
Awareness and informed input in its sessions must be the two pillars of the Commission