Staff and Union Reject NHE Offer Out of Hand

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By Mbatjiua Ngavirue WINDHOEK The dispute between the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) and 31 retrenched employees continues to drag on, becoming ever more confusing and seemingly further from resolution than ever. NHE yesterday issued an ultimatum to the workers, saying it is not prepared to enter into further negotiations. “NHE has given its final offer and, should the Union refuse it, the company has no option but to proceed to court,” NHE said in a media release on Monday evening. The statement from the company apparently came in the wake of an announcement by the Namibia Financial Institutions Union (Nafinu) that it has withdrawn a planned court action against NHE. There is still a lack of clarity surrounding the supposed withdrawal of the legal proceedings against the company. Last Wednesday, the two parties held a Rule 6 meeting provided for under the Labour Act, where they failed to reach agreement, signalling the final breakdown in negotiations. There was talk of Nafinu joining the 21 staff members to the District Labour Court challenge to the retrenchments mounted by eight former managers at the company. Some sources among the workers, however, say that although Nafinu has withdrawn its threatened legal action, there is no barrier to individual staff members pursuing the matter in the Labour Court. On Wednesday, April 4, NHE management signed an agreement in principle with union representatives agreeing to pay staff 100% of the outstanding amounts on their housing bonds. The company reportedly also agreed to pay retrenched staff members two-and-a-half weeks’ severance pay for every year worked, of which it had already paid out one week. For the workers, however, there turned out to be some truth in the superstition that Friday the 13th is always an unlucky day. On that fateful day, NHE decided to renege on the deal, after the Board of Directors failed to endorse the agreement negotiated by management. This added further bitterness to an atmosphere already poisoned by a great deal of ill will between the parties. Staff members left the late night meeting with NHE management extremely angry, wondering why they had wasted their time negotiating with a management that lacked either a mandate from – or the confidence of – its own Board. At the meeting NHE’s CEO, Vincent Hailulu, presented the staff and their union representatives with a new N$250ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 across-the-board housing bond payment for all workers and one-and-a half-weeks’ severance pay. Staff and union representatives, led by NUNW General Secretary Evilastus Karonda, and Nafinu General Secretary Asnath Zamuee, rejected the offer out of hand, accusing the company of negotiating in bad faith. Staff members later indicated that they saw the company’s offer as a divide-and-rule tactic aimed at breaking worker solidarity, by deliberately trying to tempt the more cash-strapped staff members into capitulation. So far, three staff members have apparently indicated to NHE that they would accept the company’s offer and not participate in any legal action against the company. NHE’s latest offer, contained in Monday’s statement, maintains the N$250ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 across-the-board housing payment, but improves severance pay to two weeks for every year served. The company estimates that the total cost of the settlement to the company for the 21 staff members will be N$5,25 million. “For fairness to prevail, management feels that the N$250ÃÆ’Æ‘ÀÃ…ÃÆ”šÃ‚ 000 offered to each retrenched staff member, towards housing assistance, should be shared equitably, regardless of the outstanding balance of each bond. “The demand for 100% bond settlement is inappropriate and will drain the resources of the company,” Hailulu said. As part of the settlement, the company also offered staff pro-rata bonus, accrued leave days, one month’s notice pay, fully subsidized medical aid cover for four months and total pension benefits, including both company and employee contributions. The statement from NHE has a hard-line, uncompromising tone. “NHE will defend its case in court and will not be intimidated by anyone whatsoever,” the company said.