By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Complaints regarding unfair labour practices, arbitrary dismissals, retrenchments, discrimination and the frequent hiring and firing of casual workers have caused frequent headaches in both the wholesale and retail sectors. Expressing concern over these problems the Labour Commissioner, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja said this situation could no longer be tolerated. In an effort to address the concerns, the Labour Commissioner yesterday met with 14 captains of the retail and wholesale industry as well as union leaders in the capital. The objective of the meeting was to find the best way to address the situation as well as the way forward. Citing what he termed the “casualisation of Namibian workers”, the Labour Commissioner expressed disappointment with the way many employers throughout the country are keeping casual workers for more than six years in the same position without promotion. “There seems to be no responsibility and accountability by employers when it comes to the casualisation of work and this cannot be tolerated because we must have acceptable methods of employment,” he said, adding that this is a common problem brought to his attention after conducting an extensive tour of the country. Even after 16 years of independence, some casual workers earn about N$40 a week, while they are denied payment on Sunday and public holidays and prevented from becoming members of a trade union. He said the non-payment on Sundays and on public holidays is considered illegal by the Labour Act. “It’s illegal kind of action and you will be liable to cough up a lot of billions of dollars, so please revisit your policy on this,” warned Shinguadja During the discussion sentiments prevailed amongst trade union representatives present that this is discrimination and exploitation of workers’ rights. “Most of these companies are operated from South Africa and the casual problem has become a headache for us and we don’t know how to stop it,” said Deputy General Secretary of the Namibia Wholesale and Retail Workers Union (NWRWU) Daniel Imbili. He said some people work for more than six years as casuals without ever being permanently employed. “Some people are told that this is the system in the mother company in South Africa and our labour laws are different from South Africa,” added Imbili. As more players come in, the retail and wholesale industry is growing. However, negotiations over wage increases, retrenchments and disputes between employers and their employees persist. It also turns out that employees of labour hire companies do not belong to unions, while the argument is that it is their freedom to choose whatever union they would like to associate themselves with, according to the Labour Act of Namibia. Director of African Personnel Services Kapembe Johannes said that there is no clear definition of what is a casual employee and temporary worker in both the previous and current Labour acts. Therefore the absence of a definition makes it difficult for employers to know how to deal with their workers. What makes matters difficult is that whenever workers have a labour grievance, queries are referred to the headquarters in South Africa. Hence this situation makes it difficult for trade union representatives to tackle the plight of the aggrieved workers in a speedy and amicable way. “You hand in your problems in writing today and you only get the answer months later,” said Acting Secretary General of NWRWU Joshua Mabuku. Other complaints raised during the brainstorming discussion include the worrying fact that some managers provide false information to labour inspectors when in fact no disadvantaged groups have been employed at their company. At the end of the discussion, the Labour Commissioner reiterated the call for all employers to use acceptable methods applicable to the Namibian Labour Law. “Let a poor man die a poor man but not exploited,” said Shinguadja. Although no time frame was given as to when the Labour Commissioner would follow up on the compliance of employers on ethical labour practices, he noted that he would at some stage conduct an assessment in this regard.
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