Labour Courts Are Proving Unpopular

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Due to complaints about the use of labour courts to determine grievances, the function of the district labour courts will be assumed by conciliation and arbitration bodies once the New Labour Act comes into force. According to the Labour Commissioner, Bro Mathew Shiguandja, employers and the trade union movement alike do not support the existence of the courts because they are slow, they apply strict court rules and follow rules of evidence even though the cases the courts deal with are not criminal ones. Unlike the labour courts, arbitration will take 30 days to finalize a case once it is reported, he said. But, unless the civil service is prepared to comply with the dynamics of the new system, Shiguandja said difficulties would still remain. He said civil servants usually made reference to the Public Service Act even though it is a sub-Act of the new Labour Act. To acquaint human resources practitioners with the new labour law, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare is training the officers on the process of conciliation and arbitration. Opening the three-day training on Monday, Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minster, Steve Katjiuanjo, said the successful implementation of the Act would not only depend on the readiness and cooperation of government bodies alone. This, he said, demands that staff members who will represent their offices, ministries or agencies during arbitration should undergo training in this field. Among the significant changes made in the new law is placing emphasis on the process of conciliation and arbitration as opposed to resolution of disputes in the labour courts. The participants to the workshop, who have been drawn from government ministries and regional councils, will be introduced to the conflict dynamic, approaches and processes in managing conflict and resolving disputes, the conciliation and mediation process, arbitration and preparing for cross-examination, among other topics. Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare Permanent Secretary, Ulitala Hiveluah, said since the system was about to change, officers should change the way they do things. Briefing the human resources practitioners, Shiguandja said the other reasons why the Act was revised was because it was poorly drafted, it was not reflective of modern labour relations principles and practice, and it needed to give effect to the core international labour conventions. Key problems arising from this are the use of district labour courts to determine complaints, an increase in the incidents of industrial unrest and also the dispute resolution machinery, which is primarily reactive and adversarial in nature.