Pamwe Trust Accused of Unfair Labour Practices

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK Retrenched Pamwe Trust employees are challenging the claim that the Ministry of Education can no longer afford the building work the trust is contracted to do for the ministry on the grounds it is too costly. The Pamwe Trust recently issued a statement claiming it was forced to retrench employees because the work the trust is doing for the ministry can be done much cheaper by private contractors. The 40 retrenched workers however vehemently deny this is the real reason for their retrenchment. They have even gone as far as accusing some directors of the trust of engineering the retrenchments so that they can give the tenders to their own private companies. The former programme administrator at Pamwe Trust, who asked for her name to be withheld, says there is no evidence the Ministry of Education ever complained that facilities built by the trust were too costly. She challenged the trust to produce proof, and also show evidence the ministry ever recommended the use of private contractors. The Under Secretary for Formal Education at the Ministry of Education, Alfred Ilukela, appeared to indirectly confirm the argument of the former programme administrator. Ilukela said he could not recall the ministry telling Pamwe Trust the classrooms and other facilities built for the government are too expensive, or recommending using private contractors. “We have a contractual obligation to provide Pamwe Trust with funds, but we don’t get involved in the day-to-day running of the organisation,” Ilukela said. The decision to retrench employees in order to give the work to private contractors was “entirely their decision as trustees” he added. The only role the Ministry of Education played was renewing the funding for Pamwe Trust on more or less the same terms as before with only minor adjustments for inflation. The Ministry of Education recently signed a new funding agreement with Pamwe Trust, whereby it will grant the trust an additional N$8 million for the period ending 2010. Meanwhile Acting-Director of the Trust, Jerry Beukes, yesterday confirmed retrenchment packages promised to the 40 laid-off employees have now been paid into their bank accounts. Regional Organiser of the Metal and Allied Workers Union (MANWU), Mattie Haimbili, says the trust did not negotiate, or even consult, the union about the retrenchment packages. Former employees simply found money deposited into their bank accounts last Thursday, with no explanation of how the trust arrived at the amount. The Pamwe Trust, with its three branches in the northern regions, has constructed schools in conjunction with the Ministry of Education, the Department of Works and other NGO’s since 1991. One of its main objectives is to construct standardised classrooms with community participation in the rural areas of northern Namibia. This includes involving local communities in construction work by training selected individuals in basic building and renovation skills. The retrenched workers find it difficult to understand why an organisation with a community service and training mandate should now turn to private contractors. Some former employees are making the serious allegation that directors of the trust want to line their pockets by giving work to their own private companies. Pamwe Trust treasurer, owner of Nadimi Engineering and one of those accused of such intentions, Farhad Nadimi, dismissed the allegation as absurd. Nadimi said his company is a consulting engineering firm and is not in involved in the construction or building of classrooms. Nadimi explained that when the trust talks of giving the work to private contractors, it in fact means giving the tenders to retrenched former employees of the trust. This suggests the real problem may be a failure of communication between the trust and its former employees. Others, however, question the wisdom of pushing people with little formal education and no business experience into becoming private contractors, saying they have little hope of success. In the meantime, Mattie Haimbili of Manwu yesterday said the union’s instruction from its clients was to pursue the matter in the labour court. The union has already submitted documents to the clerk of the court charging its clients’ rights have been infringed upon and that Pamwe Trust is guilty of unfair labour practices.

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