By Catherine Sasman
Manager of Theo’s Spar Otjiwarongo, Theo Borstlap, told New Era that he would consider legal action against the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) should the union’s allegations of unfair work conditions of the shop’s workers be published.
At a press briefing last Friday, NUNW Secretary General Evilastus Kaaronda said workers at Spar Otjiwarongo do not have written employment contracts as well as job descriptions.
Kaaronda also claimed that workers there are subjected to “unwritten arbitrary rules most notoriously referred to as house-keeping rules” by the Spar management, which has resulted in “arbitrary disciplinary hearings and rampant victimisation of workers”.
“We are most seriously concerned about the situation at Spar and therefore call on the management and ownership of Spar to urgently correct the situation,” Kaaronda said. The union, he said, had visited Otjiwarongo, Otavi, Kalkfeld and other surrounding towns at the beginning of last week, during which these observations were made.
“It is sad that the union makes public statements without the workers making any grievances known, for which there are procedures in place,” said Borstlap when approached for comment. “These statements are completely unfounded.”
Borstlap was insistent that the company worked “100 percent in accordance with the labour law and the new labour law”, saying that NUNW’s diatribe was a “witch-hunt” and that some disgruntled workers wanted to undermine the company by putting it in a bad light. He said one of the shop stewards was jailed, together with a security guard, on December 24 last year for stealing N$13 000. The worker is now out on bail.
Another worker, he said, was hauled over the coals after she allegedly altered the date on her sick leave certificate issued by her doctor. This worker, he said, had admitted to having changed the date.
“Is it expected that the company should do nothing about something like that?” asked Borstlap, adding: “There are only a few bad apples out there to disgrace the company because of their own agendas.”
Borstlap further denied any allegations by Kaaronda that the company was monitoring the activities of union members.
Kaaronda at the press briefing told journalists that Nafau had reported that the Spar Otjiwarongo management had cameras installed focusing on union members, following shop stewards around.
“That is nonsense,” said Borstlap, “We have normal cameras for the purpose of monitoring counter theft.”
The NUNW further said the human resources manager at the company was “merely an unsuitably qualified brother” of Borstlap.
Borstlap said the company, in fact, did not have a human resources manager, but that his son-in-law usually dealt with disciplinary matters.
Theo’s Spar Otjiwarongo and Nafau signed a collective agreement on November 16, 2000 in which the two parties reached consensus on grievance and disciplinary codes and procedures.
In a letter dated November 19, last year, Borstlap requested a response from Nafau – expected by January 21 – regarding the role of shop stewards and the “negative attitude of some employees, poor discipline and low productivity”.
Also accused of abusing and violating workers’ rights by NUNW, was Pick ‘n Pay in Otjiwarongo.
Kaaronda said this company employs people on a casual basis “just to avoid paying mandatory benefits” provided for under the Social Security Act.
Human Resources Manager for Pick ‘n Pay in Windhoek, Timothy Izaks, denied these allegations. Izaks said while most stores make use of a casual component, “based on the needs of the company”, an approved structure is in place that considers the sustainability of the business.
“The casual complement is part of the retail business, and it is not to avoid or deprive workers of any benefits,” said Izaks.
He said casual workers are usually employed for a two-day per week period, and when business picks up considerably – like during the festive season – casual workers are given a temporary contract.
In its report, the NUNW also criticized the Otjiwarongo State Hospital, claiming that particularly nursing staff and cleaners are “overworked and underpaid”, “a situation we strongly believe threatens the delivery of sound health and medical services to the majority of our people,” said Kaaronda.
He went on to say that corruption, incompetence and victimization of workers at the Otjozondjupa Regional Council were rife.
“We were informed that the top management of this regional council is the major culprit when it comes to the abuse of its employees and that the governor, despite having been alerted about these complaints, opted to remain mute!” charged Kaaronda.
The Ministry of Works, Transport and Communication in the region equally came under fire, with Kaaronda claiming that this institution is “marred by incompetence, corruption, favouritism and rock-bottom staff morale”.
He said the union was concerned about the “uncontrolled” manner in which contracts were given to private contractors to perform work for which the ministry’s own employees are well qualified. He said workers at this ministry said their subsistence and travelling allowances were still outstanding two or three years later.
The union also expressed concern over “poor salaries” paid to civil servants, saying that this matter should be addressed this year as a matter of urgency.
New Era was unable to get comment from the Ministry of Health and Social Services, the works ministry or the Otjozondjupa Regional Council.