Non-Payment of Guards Raises Concern

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK A deadline of June 15 has been given to security companies countrywide to pay all their employees outstanding salaries or come up with valid proposals on how to rectify the ongoing problem of long-delayed payments to security guards. Announcing the two-week deadline, the Labour Commissioner Bro-Matthew Shinguadja said the parties involved are shifting blame on one another on why the guards are not being paid on time and they should now work towards a common goal. Firms such as Njangula Security say the reason they are unable to fulfil financial obligations towards their workers is that several government departments are slow in processing the payments due for services rendered, resulting in delays in their pay. It turns out that some security firms stand accused of not paying their security guards for up to seven to nine months, forcing guards to go on strike while some resigned. “It is very disappointing to learn that employees are not being paid. Some have left out of frustration and some have even died without even getting paid a single cent,” said the concerned labour commissioner. In light of this, security companies in the country are being urged to revisit their books, get their act together and find urgent ways of addressing the long periods of not paying their workers their hard-earned wages at the end of the month. “Where is the money? Why are people not paid? That money should be accounted for and those people be traced because if the money is worked for why is it not paid?” questioned Shinduadja, adding that he wants a “clean bill” for the payment of the outstanding wages in the security industry. In an effort to iron out the problem and many other obstacles, the labour commissioner held a consultative meeting yesterday with owners of the security companies, union leaders and representatives from the ministries of Education, Agriculture and Finance. The meeting, held to iron out numerous problems facing the security industry, raised the concern of what is commonly known as ‘fly-by-night’ Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) companies or what the labour commissioner termed as “briefcase companies” which pop up mostly during the month of December when the need for security for many holi-daymakers is in high demand over the festive season. In most circumstances, security guards are only paid N$25,00 an hour for a 12-hour shift. However, with the sudden outcry by security guards over the long-delayed salary payments, many security companies have been experiencing problems of workers downing tools and resigning as the guards struggle to survive. Echoing similar concerns the General Secretary of NATAU John Kwedhi said the issue of fly-by-night security companies needs to be addressed seriously as they compromise the plight of security guards at the end of the day. “The BEE company is running operations tantamount to corruption. Is it really black economic empowerment or self-economic empowerment at the expense of others? What criteria is the Tender Board looking at in awarding tenders to these people?” asked the senior unionist who added if this continues he will then encourage the union’s members to go on strike and that he will call on all guards to down tools. He said that in some towns like Khorixas, Outjo and Kamanjab most of the guards protecting certain ministry buildings like that of the Ministry of Health and Social Services have only been paid for one month and no single “blue cent” afterwards till now. In view of this, union leaders present said that such a situation could not be tolerated and allowed to continue as people’s livelihoods are at stake. During the discussions, much of the blame over delayed payment came on the new computerised system introduced by the Ministry of Finance in April this year. The Managing Director of Maxi Security, Julius Itope, said his company paid his workers according to the money they receive from the ministry. Managing Director of Humphries Security Services, Laurentius Humph-ries, said he was shocked to hear that people were not paid for up to seven or nine months. “Yes, we face problems with late payments, but for the past nine months I had no problems with this. But my concern is the tariffs are too low for us to pay the people,” explained Humphries. Since the lowest tender is taken other issues of transport, posting, uniform and other benefits are not taken into consideration when awarding the tender, making it difficult for security companies to pay their workers at the end of the month. At the same time, security companies like Njangula Security Services are struggling to cope with the new minimum wage prescribed by the Government. Representatives from government however reiterated their position saying that as long as the payment order and invoices are submitted on time, the problem of non-payment would continue. “We cannot process until the end of the month, because how can we pay for service still not rendered,” said Sam Ndlovu, the Chief Control Officer of the Ministry of Health, adding that some people are still not familiar with the new electronic payment system. The Chairperson of the Namibia Security Guard and Watchman Union David Nanghete said communication between the union and employers proved in most cases difficult, ultimately resulting in strikes by workers over lack of payment. “There is a problem with access to some security companies, especially Khomas Security Services and we have no communication with management over workers problems,” said Nanghete. Unlike Njangula Security Services, Khomas Security Company and that of Maxi Securities, Triple 1 is apparently the only company that has not experienced problems of non-payment of security guards.