NA Urged to Scrutinise Workplace Discrimination

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK The National Assembly was yesterday heavily criticised for ignoring pleas of help from the Employment Equity Commission to properly implement the Affirmative Action Law in the Namibian workplace. The criticism came from Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture John Mutorwa, who reacted to a Congress of Democrats motion asking for a debate on racial and gender imbalances as well as discrimination at the workplace. “We have been constantly receiving annual reports, painstakingly prepared by and from the Employment Equity Commission for a number of years about the unsatisfactory state of affairs of employment in the public as well as the private sectors in this House. The Commission in its last report asked for help and assistance on how to resolve the existing work-related issues. Instead of strengthening the very legal institution we created in giving effect to the law we enacted, we choose not to react. That is why I welcome the motion by the leader of the Congress of Democrats,” said Mutorwa. According to Mutorwa, some 213 cases of non-compliance with the Affirmative Action Law have been reported to the National Assembly by the Employment Equity Commission since 2000. “Formal charges of transgressing the Affirmative Action Law were laid against 155 companies, but have to date not been brought to court. This is evidence that such companies operate with impunity. In view of this situation, recommendations to the relevant minister are not enough. We should act ourselves, because if we don’t, we’ll be seen to be helpless in the National Assembly,” he warned. Mutorwa suggested the issue be referred to a select committee for recommendations to the House for further discussion and action. “That’s how we will be able to strengthen our efforts because we have the facts of the situation right in our hands. The law is wilfully transgressed with impunity. It’s as simple as that and we must do something about it. A select committee will be the answer,” he said. In his motion, the leader of the Congress of Democrats, Ben Ulenga, charged that the Affirmative Action (Employment) Act of 1998 has basically done nothing to resolve the inequalities in the workplace. “Some people believe the Affirmative Action Law to be intolerable reverse discrimination. A number of young white Namibians have complained about how they cannot get hired and believe this is because of their skin colour. Nor is affirmative action a popular topic for many Namibians. Many company annual reports, including those of front-line parastatal institutions, choose to be quiet about their programmes aimed at achieving equal opportunity at the workplace, even when they have indeed some achievements to show,” Ulenga said in his motivation of the motion. He argued that efforts by the Namibian parliament to transform the workplace and to achieve equality are not bearing the desired fruits. “Sixteen years after Independence, the signs are there that as a society we are not ridding ourselves of race-based inequalities, at least not anywhere fast enough. The motion is looking for ways and measures that should be undertaken to achieve equality and social transformation, especially in the workplace. However, according to evidence except for the Public Service and tourism and the hospitality industries, the private sector has remained white and male and has become dominantly so,” he said. “In many of the positions where decisions regarding change are supposed to be made and where change is expected to be affected, no change is occurring. The same stagnation infects just too many middle management and professional occupations at many companies in the private sector. Some companies do not have a single Black person, a woman or a person living with disability in the executive, senior management, middle management, specialized, skilled or senior supervisory positions,” he claimed. According to Ulenga this is the situation even in some of the traditional Namibian companies where one would have expected to see the economic advantages of social integration in the workplace. “Some companies are silent in their annual reports about the workplace movements of their employees. If companies do not show how many people from designated groups were actually recruited, promoted, fired, resigned or retired during a specific period, it becomes difficult to gauge the rate of progress in achieving equality in the workplace. Also, playing the number game, emphasizing the number of people from designated groups occupying certain positions, may hide what may amount to mere window dressing attempts from certain employers. Real transformation will not be able to be measured unless it is detailed, with which decision making powers go with what position in the company,” Ulenga said He believes that wage differentials of employees from designated groups should also shed light on the quality of the affirmative action exercise. “Many companies are reputed to bestow grand titles while paying race-based wages in favour of certain designated groups. The biggest and most formidable barrier to equal opportunity in the workplace is the unwillingness to change, the refusal to comply with the law and the spirit behind the law. The mentality of many of the personalities in strategic positions at many companies in the private sector is steeped in race-based bias. We are unwilling to transform and the law is not toothed enough to enforce transformation,” he said.