Trade Unions Encouraged to Forge Ahead

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By Frederick Philander WINDHOEK Despite the absence of a national minimum wage on the Namibian job market, trade unions have managed to negotiate significant minimum wage agreements for workers in various sectors of the economy. This is one of the findings of a Wage Bargaining Review done by the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LARRi) released on Monday during a two-day workshop on unionism in the capital. “One particular challenge facing trade unions in wage bargaining is the lack of sufficient information regarding wage developments in their respective sectors. Unlike other surveys, this report focuses on minimum wages and highlights the problem of low pay for workers in Namibia,” the report, based on information derived from the Actual Wage Rate Database (AWARD) for the years 2000-2004, states categorically. The report indicates that trade unions attained better wages of 5,3% in 2005 than in the previous year when the real wage increase was only 3%. “The greatest wage-bargaining successes by trade unions were achieved in the agricultural, construction and security sectors of the economy. The two respective highest minimum wages achieved were paid to workers in the mining and quarrying sector (N$1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 946 per month) and the transport sector (N$1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 887 per month). The wholesale and retail sector had the lowest minimum wage of N$1ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 164 per month in 2005, notwithstanding a boom in the industry,” the report states. The Namibian Wage Bargaining Report also reveals that, based on statistics received from AWARD, trade unions face a decline in the numbers of their members. “However, trade unions remain important organizations through which workers bargain for better working conditions and higher wages,” the report says, also singling out NATAU as the best performing trade union in average minimum wage negotiations for its members. “This achievement is a clear indication that, despite the fact that the company bosses argued strongly for lower increases given the low inflation environment, union negotiators played their cards well,” the report says. The report also cautions against using poverty datum lines as minimum wage benchmarks. “Poverty datum lines are calculated as the minimum financial requirement needed to satisfy some basic biological and material needs. These calculations usually disregard most social needs of workers such as education, transport, communication, etc. Poverty datum lines therefore do not ensure a decent standard of living,” the report warns. Generally, the report indicates that significant strides were made in the achievement of minimum wages by unions for workers with improvements in some sectors, whilst the wages in other sectors remain low. The report further advises trade unions to obtain data on sectoral growth and company financial positions in order to strengthen their bargaining positions. “Trade unions should develop new strategies and intensify their efforts in bargaining for higher wages for their members. They will continue to play an important and critical role in the face of globalization, poverty and unemployment in the protection of worker rights,” the report concludes.