By Mbatjiua Ngavirue
NHE CEO Vincent Hailulu finally caved in at 00h15 this morning, agreeing to virtually all the main demands of the retrenched NHE employees after stubbornly digging in his heels for months.
Sources close to the intense negotiations taking place between the company and the unions say NHE has now agreed to the employees’ main demand – to pay 100% of the outstanding bonds on their houses.
“We are a housing institution and should not put people on the street who have dedicated their whole lives to providing housing for others,” the source said.
The company has reportedly also agreed to add an extra one-and-a-half week’s pay – based on full remuneration – for every year served, to the one-week minimum required by the Labour Act.
The company has already paid the one-week minimum, but will now pay another one-and-a-half weeks for every year served.
The arrival of Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Regional and Local Government and Housing, Erastus Negonga, earlier that evening may have played a part in the breakthrough in negotiations.
Negonga held a closed-door meeting with Hailulu and, with some speculating, Negonga came to read Hailulu the Riot Act.
The settlement reached in the early hours of yesterday morning is only an agreement in principle that still needs ratification by the NHE Board of Directors.
In addition, NHE apparently offered 6-8 employees the option of reinstatement to their former positions because of inconsistencies in the criteria used to select employees for retrenchment.
In some cases, for instance, NHE told employees the company was retrenching them because they only have a matriculation certificate, while it allowed other employees with matric to remain.
Retrenched NHE workers have been picketing the NHE headquarters for the past three days, usually arriving at 07h30 and leaving late in the evening while surviving on take-away meals.
When New Era arrived there yesterday evening, they looked tired but determined, while anxiously awaiting the outcome of the negotiations.
The mood fluctuated with very little snippets of news coming out of the negotiating room.
One minute they would be happy as news leaked out that NHE was about to meet their demands, and then turned sombre when hearing the company’s position had once again changed.
People present when negotiators announced the agreement just after midnight say the workers were jubilant and ecstatic with joy.
“We were all overwhelmed. The negotiations were exhausting but they finally bore fruit. Their main concern was, will my housing bond be paid?” one person on the scene said.
The agreement comes in the wake of a verification process of the procedures followed during the retrenchment exercise, that NHE and the unions agreed to during meetings held last week.
The two sides then presented and extensively discussed the findings of the verification process over two days – on Monday and Tuesday.
According to one knowledgeable source, NHE CEO Vincent Hailulu ate crow, admitting the company violated its own conditions of employment and failed to follow proper procedures with the retrenchments.
“This agreement will set the standard for all other institutions intending to retrench employees, because it will establish that employees are entitled to proper compensation for their contribution to a company,” the source said.
The agreement would further affirm that Age Discrimination is prohibited and that middle-aged workers are entitled to the same protection and compensation as other workers.
The source repeated something the retrenched workers have stated all along, that dismissal based solely on qualifications is contrary to the Affirmative Action Act.
According to the Act, they say, employers are required to take into account experience, training and skills – something they allege NHE totally disregarded.
“If you don’t adhere to your own Acts, such as the Affirmative Action Act, whom do you expect to adhere to them,” the source said, referring to the government-owned company NHE.
“Why we went through this process was to pinpoint that the company missed out on a valuable opportunity to carry out a proper retrenchment process,” the person added.
The workers’ negotiating team included NUNW General Secretary Evilastus Karonda, Farm Workers Union General Secretary Alfred Angula, Namibian Financial Institutions Union General Secretary Asnath Zamuee, Keimetswe Simana, Nantes !Gaoseb and Vicky Konjore.
The NHE team consisted of CEO Vincent Hailulu, newly-appointed Senior Marketing Manager Pineas Mweya, Company Secretary Mildred Hendricks and Hailulu’s consultant Deon Gerber.
Sources among the retrenched workers say there was no representative from the Human Resources Department because the new CEO is allegedly distrustful of all the old employees of the company.
This, they say, explains why he took a marketing man into labour negotiations instead of someone from Human Resources – and in some way explains why the entire retrenchment process went off the rails.
Efforts to reach either CEO Hailulu or Corporate Communications Manager, Auna Shipanga, for comment late yesterday afternoon proved unsuccessful.