The Delicate Task of Labour Relations

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By Chrispin Inambao KOMSBERG MILTON Shiimi is the Human Resources Manager at Komsberg a farm located in a pristine valley lush with grape vines that are pregnant with fruit of a seedless variety. In short, Komsberg is one of the most successful commercial farms that produce hundreds of thousands of cartons of export-quality grape for the European market where consumers are quality conscious and demand value for their money. Though insiders in this sector are reluctant to release any sales figures it is believed the industry generates tens of millions in export earnings, thus making it an essential one for its role towards the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and employment creation. Shiimi, a jovial fellow oozing confidence is a new breed of indigenous managers that are employed in this relatively new industry providing jobs to thousands of locals. Shiimi was born some thirty-six years ago at the harbour town of LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz where his father toiled in the mines, while his mother was employed as a domestic worker. His father is Prince Shiimi, a well-known Ondangua-based entrepreneur who owns and manages a paint factory and also has interests in various business sectors. Due to circumstances beyond him, he has very vague recollections of his mother who passed away while he was still a minor. Though he was born at LÃÆ’Æ‘Æ‘ÃÆ”šÃ‚¼deritz due to the migrant labour practises that existed in pre-independent Namibia particularly for people of colour, he was compelled to attend both his primary and secondary education in the northern part of the country. He received his elementary education at Orokoro Primary before proceeding to Oluno Secondary School. After Oluno the Kwazulu/Natal Technikon in South Africa beckoned. It is at this institution where he enrolled for a three-year diploma in human resources – his highest qualification thus far. After his educational stint in South Africa he tried his hand at business, namely in the property industry, but his plans went up in flames when it came to implementing his business plans and no one could lend him the start-up capital of N$500 000. After his business dream fell through he somehow landed a job as a human resources manager at Komsberg in September 2002. Initially his job was a living nightmare as he still had to learn the ropes, and he acknowledged this with a twinkle in his eye saying the challenges were simply enormous as he had to deal with absenteeism, alcohol abuse, cases of gross misconduct and even handling physical fights among some workers. Apart from these challenges he also had to put in place a number of structures related to human resources because they were non-existent at the time. And once these structures were put in place he had to attend to various cultural issues at the root of labour unrest. Initially the situation was, in Shiimi’s words, “chaotic” but he eventually addressed the root causes of the infighting and the chaos and since then Komsberg is an oasis of harmonious labour and race relations, and people from the different tribal groups have embraced each other mindful of the fact that Namibia is a rich diversity of culture. “We all have a common vision and workers are realising that it is not only the manager’s responsibility to look after Komsberg but it is also their responsibility and it gives them a sense of belonging,” he says. After reading the riot act on labour and after re-orienting some managers on the one hand and the general workers on the other, there is presently a general sense of belonging and camaraderie among them. When asked about his recipe for successful labour relations, he said creating a conducive working environment, maintaining sound labour practices and constantly sharing information with the workers plus hard work resulted in the present harmony. This year Komsberg’s labour component consists of 150 permanent workers and 600 seasonal workers, that is 200 more seasonal workers when compared to the figure employed last year. This is so because the farm intends to harvest more grapes this year and it has set its target at around 400 000 cartons, each weighing either 4,5 kg or 9 kg. All the workers on this farm earn more than the minimum wage of N$440 that is prescribed in the Labour Act. Their salaries range from N$680 to N$2 000 making them among the highest earners in the entire agricultural sector.