By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Pupkewitz Group yesterday strongly defended itself against attacks made by National Union of Namibian Workers’ (NUNW) General Secretary Evalistus Kaaronda. The Pupkewitz Motor Division is currently deadlocked in wage negotiations with the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) over a wage increase for 79 Manwu members employed by the company. Kaaronda sharply criticised the company at a joint press conference held last week together with the General Secretary of Manwu, Moses Shiikwa. He accused the Pupkewitz Group of failing to implement affirmative action, intimidating workers and creating tension between workers within and outside the bargaining unit. The Director: Human Resources at the Pupkewitz Group, Mike Hill, yesterday expressed disappointment with the manner in which both Manwu and the NUNW were handling the dispute with the company. He accused Manwu of violating the terms of the Recognition Agreement Manwu has with the Pupkewitz Group. In terms of the Recognition Agreement, both parties had agreed they would not make statements to the media without consulting the other party. Hill said the attacks by Kaaronda and Shiikwa at last week’s press conference appeared to be a negotiating tactic to pressurise the company. He accused the two unionists of using a combination of lies and personal attacks against chairman Harold Pupkewitz as part of this tactic. He said the company was baffled by Shiikwa’s statement at the press conference that their members are demanding a 10% increase, saying this was not true. The Conciliation Board meeting held on May 23 this year ended in deadlock after a Manwu demand of a 17-18% wage increase and a 50% increase in the transport allowance. Hill says the company was never officially informed of a change in Manwu’s wage demand. “We don’t know where that comes from, and we don’t even know what he is telling his members if that is the situation,” Hill said. The original wage demand by Manwu was for a 35% increase, but it gave no explanation or justification for this figure. Hill says the company has no idea of how the union arrived at 35%, forcing them to request the union to provide them with written justification for the demand. Manwu’s wage demands furthermore did not seem to be based on a realistic assessment of what the motor industry or other industries in the private sector were paying. He argued that Pupkewitz Group wage levels are in fact well above the average for the private sector. Hill challenged Kaaronda to show evidence of workers being intimidated at the Pupkewitz Group, saying Manwu had never complained before of their members being intimidated. Shiikwa claimed at the union press conference that Manwu had 212 members at Pupkewitz Motor Division. According to Hill, the union only has 100 members at the company, while only 79 of those fall within the bargaining unit involved in the present dispute. In his opinion, the Pupkewitz Motor Division had followed proper procedures in terms of the Recognition Agreement while Manwu was in breach of that agreement. The basis of the Recognition Agreement is that it sets out procedures for collective bargaining between the two parties. For the agreement to be workable, however, it relies on both the Pupkewitz Group and Manwu to adhere to the agreement. Hill said that Manwu and the NUNW were not practicing responsible industrial relations, because such relations relied on both parties sticking to an agreement. What was even more puzzling to the Pupkewitz Group was that Manwu was far from exhausting measures available to it within the Recognition Agreement. Manwu could still resort to a strike if it chose to after following the required procedures in terms of the Recognition Agreement. It instead chose to bypass the agreement and use the NUNW to call for a consumer boycott of the Pupkewitz Group. The Pupkewitz Group made a widely reported statement that a consumer boycott is a two-edged sword, which was interpreted by some as a threat against either its employees or the union. Hill attempted to correct this impression, saying that what they meant was a consumer boycott would also hurt the workers whose interests Manwu and the NUNW were supposed to be protecting. Commenting on the various statements made by Shiikwa and Kaaronda, he said that telling lies destroyed the trust that was necessary for good industrial relations. He questioned the entire role the NUNW in the current dispute saying the Pupkewitz Motor Division was in a bargaining relationship with Manwu and not the NUNW. “We feel the NUNW needs to have a proper understanding of its role. We can’t understand how a non-negotiating partner can make public statements without checking its facts.” The company feels the NUNW has a very positive role to play in promoting sound industrial relations through advising its member unions on how to bargain and maintain collective agreements. It also has an important role to play in working as a tri-partite partner with the government and the Namibian Employers Federation. Hill said they had written a letter to the NUNW telling them they were destroying the relationship between the company and the unions. “You don’t negotiate by being dishonest or through personal attacks. To us it is incomprehensible that they don’t respect agreements,” Hill remarked.
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