By Anna Shilongo
The Namibia Employers’ Federation says agriculture and tourism – the two sectors predominantly represented at the recent Windhoek Show – are most likely to be negatively affected by the new Labour Act unless this legislation is revised.
Vekuii Rukoro, President of the Namibian Employers’ Federation (NEF), recently expressed this sentiment when he suggested the provisions of this Act should be considered on the basis of economic realities and not on short-term political expedience.
He noted the two sectors of agriculture and tourism are the backbone of the economy and are also future growth points.
“Yet, both are being jeopodised by Section 28 of the new Labour Act which says that an employer who terminates the employment of an employee who is living in accommodation provided by the employer, and the dismissal is for reasons of a disciplinary nature, then the employee who has been dismissed shall have the right to remain on the premises of the employer up to three months from the date of dismissal or much longer if the employee has declared a dispute with the Labour Commissioner,” he explained.
“How on earth is any farmer or lodge manager supposed to put up with such an untenable situation for three months and even a whole year or longer while the Office of the Labour Commissioner is trying to process the dispute?
Is this the type of imposition the very best solution that Cabinet and parliament could come up with to address a labour issue of worst case scenario ‘unfair dismissal’?” he asked.
Rukoro said Section 28 of the Labour Act could oblige farmers, lodge owners and guest farm owners to make further investment in infrastructure to cater for extended accommodation of staff after lawful termination of their employment.
“Clearly, this will add considerably to the initial investment and the continued maintenance costs which can only lead to price hikes in the tourism industry – making it even further less competitive in the region,” said Rukoro.
He believes the potential negative implications of the aforesaid measure must be seen against the importance of these two sectors to the economy of Namibia.
Tourism alone contributes 16 percent to the country’s GDP and accounts for some 18 percent of total employment. Agriculture on the other hand contributes 7 percent to the GDP and employs some 30 percent of the total labour force, while directly more than 70 percent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood.
“Yet agriculture continues to be the unseen foundation of our economy which actually deserves more focused attention,” said Rukoro.
He added that the legislative measure under discussion has shaken the confidence of employers and wealth creators in the two setors who are collectively responsible for 23 percent of the nations GDP and 48 percent of direct total employment.
“In this day of 37 percent unemployment, the Government and parliament seem to be saying they are ready to risk all of that for the sake of a populist labour measure, perversely, though the direct end-results of the very measure in a few years from now is that the rate of the unemployment may very well have exceeded 40 percent, why? Because they would have failed to effect a proper balance between job security for workers and labour market flexibility,” stated the former parliamentarian.
He said the Government instead has fallen in the trap of rigid labour laws and put the country on a path of slow economic growth.
“Last year, the Government projected a GDP growth rate of 4 percent, but the reality is that we only achieved a growth of 2.9 percent,” he stated.
Rukoro also raised concern about the long period it takes for one to register a business in the country, noting, it takes 300 days to register a business in one country while it takes a mere 15 minutes in another. It is in this light that the NEF demands that a clear distinction be made between inefficient and efficient regulations.
He believes it is this flexibility and speed to market that will increase the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination.