Government Sticks to Its Guns

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By Surihe Gaomas WINDHOEK Government is standing its ground not to recognize the Namibia Nurses Union (NANU) as the sole bargaining agent, as this could be in breach of an agreement it signed giving exclusive bargaining rights to the Namibian Public Workers’ Union (NAPWU). In a statement issued by the Prime Minister’s Office yesterday, NANU was advised to seek legal recourse by way of the District Labour Court, chaired by Clement Daniels. The response from the Office of the Prime Minister comes just three days before the set deadline date of January 23, 2007 upon which NANU was waiting for Government’s official response to the nurses’ demands, based on a petition made last month. Reasons given by Government read: “Government has an agreement with the (Namibia Public Worker’s Union) NAPWU recognizing them as the Exclusive Bargaining Agent of the bargaining unit as defined in the agreement.” Furthermore, if it happens that government recognizes NANU as the sole bargaining agent for nurses, then it would be in breach of the agreement it has with NAPWU. Confirming receipt of the faxed letter signed by the Office’s Permanent Secretary, Steven Katjiuanjo, last Friday, Shopati said they would study the response, and have approached their legal advisers on what appropriate action to take. ” Currently, we are studying the arguments given in detail to our lawyers. The response is more technical in the way we see it and we will see what appropriate action to take next,” said Shopati, adding that they would see whether or not they would take government’s advice on challenging the matter in the Labour Court. This challenge is based on terms contained in Section 58 (6) of the Labour Act 6 of 1992 in which NANU was advised to obtain a court order whereby the nurses’ recognition to NAPWU can be withdrawn. It is only after that scenario that Government can recognize NANU as the Exclusive Bargaining Agent for Nurses. Meanwhile, a recently held stakeholders’ meeting was convened by Prime Minister Nahas Angula with regard to the current Nurses issue, which came out with several pertinent resolutions to the matter. These ranged from overtime affecting shift-workers in the public service, payments for work done on Sundays and public holidays, the status on the Namibia Nurses Union (NANU), and other related matters concerning the nurses’ issue. At a meeting last week Wednesday, the Premier called upon the Minister of Health, Dr Richard Kamwi, as well as ministers and senior officials from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and Labour Commissioner Bro-Mathew Shinguadja to hold a discussion on issues raised in the nurses’ petition and to look at the way forward. At the same occasion, Minister Kamwi also briefed the Premier on his latest consultative trips to nurses’ throughout the country. During the discussions the following decisions were taken between the stakeholders: On the issue of overtime, it was stated in the Ministry of Health’s press release yesterday that “Nurses should be remunerated the same as any other public service member, in line with relevant provision of the Labour Act of 1992,” stated Dr Kalumbi Shangula, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Social Services. When looking at this specific Act (Act No. 6 of 1992) on the matter of overtime, it further reads that “an employer shall pay to an employee who works overtime an amount calculated at a rate of not less than – (a) in a case of any day other than Sunday or a public holiday, one and one-half times, and (b) in case of a Sunday or a public holiday, double his or her remuneration for one hour in respect of the overtime so worked by him or her.” Therefore, with regard to the issue of payment for work on Sundays and public holidays, Dr Shangula stated that “Nurses will be compensated according to the provisions of the Labour Act of 1992, namely: double the hourly rate for work done.” With regard to the status of the nurses’ union, NANU, it was again made clear that Government has a recognition agreement with the Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU) as the sole bargaining agent. Anything contrary to this, Dr Shangula said, would be in breach of the agreement it has with NAPWU. “However, if NANU wants to challenge this status quo, it can approach the Labour Court in terms of Section 58 of the Labour Act,” said Dr Shangula. This section focuses on the “Recognition of registered trade unions as exclusive bargaining agents.” At the same time, it was reported in the media this week that government has officially told NANU to challenge this recognition agreement with NAPWU in the Labour Court. On its part, the Health Ministry stated that it would deal with the administrative issues affecting the nurses – like, for instance, the provision of uniforms, amongst others. Furthermore, the review on the job grade category of Registered Nurses will be conducted once a new job-evaluation and grading system is finalized, together with the review of grades of all public servants.