By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The Namibia Financial Institutions Union (Nafinu) has accused the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) of unfair labour practices following the unilateral retrenchment of 31 employees at the corporation last September. Nafinu condemned the retrenchments, saying they are in complete violation of the existing recognition agreement between the union and the NHE, as well as the Labour Act. Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Nafinu president Dawid Shikulo cast doubt on the motives of the NHE in retrenching the employees. One reason given by the company, according to the union, was the excessive and financially unsustainable salary bill at the NHE. Shikulo however said that if one looked at the proposed new structure of the NHE following its restructuring, it would be employing more people after restructuring than before. The company is said to have already advertised 18 new positions, of which some have already been filled. He said the only criterion used in deciding on retrenchments was qualifications, with the result that even employees with six to 20 years’ experience were told they were no longer needed. The union however says this is in direct violation of the Affirmative Action Act, which states: “A person who has the abilities, formal qualifications or relevant experience for a position of employment.” The Act further goes on to state that any one of those three attributes would entitle a person to preferential consideration. Several of the employees retrenched by the NHE were present at the press conference and expressed bitterness over the shabby manner in which the company has treated them. They say that during consultations to formulate the NHE’s restructuring plan, Chief Executive Vincent Hailulu repeatedly assured them that no employees would lose their jobs in the restructuring process. In July last year, the employees apparently entered into negotiations with the company for a wage increment. Just days before the end of August – before they had concluded the wage negotiations – they were shocked to receive letters telling them their services would not be required as from September 1, 2006. The reasons given in the letters were allegedly that the employees was not qualified, or unsuitable for the position, or that the position was redundant. The NHE gave them three months’ paid notice, meaning the company stopped paying them end of November 2006. Quite unusually, the NHE reportedly did not negotiate retrenchment packages with them before terminating their services, claiming they would negotiate these later. The negotiations on retrenchment packages are currently deadlocked according to the workers. “It is extremely disheartening to note that companies such as NHE led by fellow blacks, claiming to have the interest of the workers at heart, easily opt to retrench workers thereby contributing to the swelling numbers of the unemployed in the country,” Shikulo said. The union was also highly critical of NHE Chief Executive Hailulu, doubting whether he himself is in fact qualified to lead the NHE. “Since he took over the NHE is going down. Workers are demoralised and for the majority of them working at NHE is no longer an honour,” Shikulo believed. He went as far as claiming that the NHE had not build a single house since the company appointed Hailulu in late 2005. Accusations were also made of a conflict of interest because Hailulu and NHE Board chairperson, Professor Gerhard TÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¶temeyer, who are allegedly business partners in a consulting firm. The two supposedly recently undertook a two-week business trip to China together when, according to the union, retrenchment negotiations were at a crucial stage. “We are putting a vote of no-confidence in Mr Hailulu. He has worsened the tense and bad relationship that already existed. “We are therefore calling for the immediate removal of Mr Hailulu as CEO of NHE and his business partner, Prof. G Totemeyer, as the board chairperson,” Nafinu said.
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