In Defence of Workers’ Rights

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By Cuana Angula

I am responding to senior citizen and the Executive Chairman of the Pupkewitz Group as told in “The Role of Business in Human Rights and Good Governance” which was published in The Namibian newspaper of the 1st June 2007. In response, I am quoting the Namibian constitution.

Preamble:
” Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is indispensable for freedom, justice and peace; Whereas the said rights include the right of the individual to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of race, colour, ethnic origin, sex, religion, creed or social or economic status.”

Chapter III Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms 8 [Respect Article for Human Dignity]
(1) The dignity of all persons shall be inviolable.

The Namibian business community is exploiting this article of the constitution with their view of management philosophy with new terms called “precarious employment” which is none other than outsourcing, contracting-out, fixed-term contracts, casualisation, using labour brokers and labour hiring companies.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) the agenda of “decent work” involves:”… the promotion of opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Decent work is the converging focus of the four strategic objectives, namely rights at work, employment, social protection and social dialogue.”

If I compare this to the common characteristics of precarious work and the real reasons behind employers’ use of precarious employment practices, expanding precarious employment in Namibia is tantamount to increasing the decent work deficit and moving us further from the goals identified in the ILO’s decent work agenda.

Article 23 [Apartheid and Affirmative Action]
(1)”The practice of racial discrimination and the practice and ideology of apartheid under which the majority of the people of Namibia have suffered for so long shall be prohibited and by Act of Parliament.”

Parliament to pass legislation aimed at redressing “social, economic or educational imbalances in the Namibian society arising out of past discriminatory laws or practices”. But painfully little has changed since then, when it comes to the scandalous inequalities in society. Namibia ranks in the top category of countries with the deepest social divides. The Employment Equity Act has done little to transform the workplace and this act needs to be reviewed as it does not serve its purpose, the workplace is still controlled by male, and through affirmative action policies, incompetent staff are appointed in senior positions with disastrous results. This is evident in state-owned enterprises and local authorities. Jobs for comrades is a disaster!

A large-scale National Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) undertaken during 1993/1994 concluded that “there are vast disparities between a small, wealthy minority and a big majority of which many live below the poverty line”. (Central Statistics Office 1996, p. 4). According to the report, 10% of the households (amounting to 5.3% of the population) totalled 44% of the private household consumption while the remaining 90% of households (amounting to 94.7% of Namibia’s population) consumed 56% (ibid.,
p. 15). The figures also show that the average Namibian, in economic terms, does not exist.

Trade Unions in Namibia lack capacity and leaders of high calibre are required for a trade union to develop appropriate strategies for new challenges. The brain drain has depleted this pool of leadership.

Article 21 [Fundamental Freedoms]
Union leaders are free to express the views of their members. Should the senior citizen feel his rights have been encroached upon, he can approach a competent court for a defamation suit. Indeed such rights are a foundation of the pluralistic society in which we live and we must recognise that different groups have a right to express their interests including the union leaders. Trade unions have a fiduciary duty towards their members. Trade unions cannot be forced to practice self-censorship.

The Wages Survey of 2002, tabled in Parliament in June 2006, shows the gross income inequalities in salaried employment: 14.9% of employees earn below N$600 (about US$100) a month with the majority of salaries ranging between N$1,000 and N$ 5,000 (Dentlinger 2006) – is this “favourable remuneration” senior citizen? Namibian workers are underpaid as per this survey conducted by the Ministry of Labour in 2002. What is a living wage? We must debate this issue.

About 12% of the population has no formal education at all while 52% attained or completed some level of primary education.

Only about 2% of the population reached higher education. Unemployment is related to the levels of education as the bulk of the unemployed (74%) have primary or junior secondary education while less than 1% of the unemployed have a post-secondary education (NLFS 2000: 62-63).The education policies have failed and need to be reviewed. School leavers are joining the army of the unemployed instead of joining the labour market. Employers and workers should contribute to the skills development fund to address the acute situation of unemployment.

Low Salaries
Corruption is often attributed to the low salaries of civil servants.

This differentiates between: need driven (satisfying basic requirements for survival) corruption and greed driven (satisfying desires for status and comfort that salaries cannot match) corruption.

It may be true that it is more difficult to stay honest, hard-working and trustworthy on a low salary, but it is also true that most people with low salaries are still able to do so and that many corrupt officials are people in high, responsible positions, earning good salaries.

Corrupt practices flourish in systems where employees have high job security; where the level of professionalism in the public service is low; and hence officials rather serve their own interests than perform their duties to serve the public. The poorest of the poor do not wish to remain entrapped in their marginal position for a moment longer; they also need to enjoy material wealth.

Our country is signatory to the UN declaration on these noble Millennium goals because not only do we crave to live in a better world, but most importantly, we desire to have a better quality of life for our own people.

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