By Kuvee Kangueehi
The Office of the Labour Inspector in Gobabis resembles a clinic. Several farm workers queue in front of the office every day, all of them patiently waiting to go and lay their complaints.
The labour inspector for the Omaheke Region, Sam Kambazembi is calm as he listens to the various grievances. To him addressing the tens of cases has become routine.
Kambazembi said yesterday that most of the labour cases reported to his office were from workers on commercial farms. The cases usually range from unpaid wages, failure to grant leave, unfair dismissal, as well as overtime and Sunday time payments.
The labour inspector said in most cases, the commercial farmers did not follow the procedures when dismissing their employees.
“The farmer will simply dismiss the employee and claim that he does not have time to conduct disciplinary hearings because he is alone at the farm.”
Kambazembi said his office receives nearly seven cases every day and then has to deal with follow-up; hence it addresses more than 30 cases per day.
He, however, said that almost 95 percent of the cases were resolved before they reached the district labour court and only lawyers who represented the commercial farmers sometimes insisted on taking the cases to court.
He said that most of the farm workers were illiterate and did not know their rights and this made them vulnerable to abuse from the commercial farmers.
“Commercial farmers are more informed and whenever in dispute with an employee usually consult their unions which advises them accordingly, while the workers often out of anger act in a manner that even jeopardises their cases in court.”
Hendrik Kojak aged 40, one of the workers who saw the labour inspector, said that his previous employer had not paid him for the last month. He claimed that he made bricks for a farmer worth N$600, but the farmer did not want to pay him and even confiscated his identification documents.
“She took my ID slip, birth certificate and hospital card and I cannot visit the hospital.”
He claims that the farmer warned him not to come to his farm anymore, unless he was coming to make bricks. Kojak had been accompanied by his sister and wife who claimed that they had had nothing to eat for the past few days because they were waiting for the payment.
Kasera Nambundu, also a new case, said he had not been paid for the last three months following his injury on duty in January. Nambundu broke his jaw as well as his left arm. He said that he was injured while riding a horse on the farm and had been in hospital for three months. His employer claims that he must get his money from the Social Security Commission (SSC).
Nambundu said his employer told him that he had sent his application form to the SSC head office but so far, he had not received any payment.
Labour inspector Kambazembi said injuries at work in commercial areas were common but the problem was that the farmers did not report the cases to his office as required by law.
“The farmers only dump the injured employees at the state hospital instead of taking them to a private doctor, who will be paid by the SSC,” he said.