By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK The Prime Minister Nahas Angula has called upon Namibian workers to reinvigorate themselves “as agents of change” in order to boost economic development in the country. He made this remark when addressing hundreds of workers at a dinner of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) at the union’s 4th national congress last Friday. At the same occasion, the Prime Minister also launched the Labour Resources and Research Institute’s booklet entitled: “The Struggle for Workers’ Rights in Namibia”, authored by Herbert Jauch. For a long time, the history of the labour movement by workers has been seen as part and parcel of the Swapo Party’s liberation movement. Citing this as a historical role of the working masses, Prime Minister Angula urged the member unions to continue being agents of change in a contemporary situation. “The workers are the foundation of the liberation struggle, therefore you need to uphold the tradition of the struggle, that’s your responsibility as workers,” explained the Premier. Even after 16 years of independence, it turns out that the Namibian labour movement faces a whole host of challenges, including high levels of unemployment, and poor wages and working conditions for vulnerable workers like domestic workers, security guards and farm workers. Over the years there has also been a general lack of interest in trade unions among young workers, and divisions within the labour movement. The newly launched booklet coincided with the start of the 4th national congress of the NUNW, highlighting some of the struggles that Namibian workers had to endure in the past in order to overcome discrimination and violations of their rights. The booklet, according to the author Herbert Jauch, is seen to keep the memories of the workers’ struggle alive in a contemporary Namibia 16 years down the line. “We need to look at issues that confront workers today. Highlights of some of the key struggles are that of the TCL mine and that of the 1970 strike. These things were not given on a silver plate because we fought for it,” said Jauch when addressing the over 500 union members at the gala dinner. The booklet reads that “the most significant workers strike in Namibia was the general strike of 1971-72 which involved over 13 500 migrant workers who rose against the system of pass laws and migrant labour.” Such an action further demonstrated the potential of workers to take organised action in defence of their rights. Now 16 years after independence, other challenges affecting the rights of workers in the country centre around the high levels of unemployment and poverty. With unemployment over 30 percent, there are growing concerns of a “reserve army of unemployed workers” in the country that are desperate for any kind of work under almost any circumstances. “This places enormous pressure on the achievements of trade unions which have seen an increasing number of casual workers and workers employed by labour hire companies (labour brokers) enduring working conditions that are far worse that those of permanent workers,” reads the booklet. Jauch also highlighted that the fact that some companies have resorted to outsourcing and sub-contracting to cut costs and drive down the wage bill. It however becomes evident that even after 16 years of independence, vulnerable workers like domestic workers, security guards and farm workers are poorly organised and not fully aware of their legal basic rights as workers. These are but some of the pertinent challenges that the Namibia labour movement needs to confront in the near future.
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