By Catherine Sasman
Labour Minister, Alpheus !Naruseb, says the new Labour Law was not signed “secretly” as suggested in some media, but that the legislative process was preceded by extensive consultation.
The new labour law was gazetted on December 31 last year, and has sparked numerous and mixed remarks from players in industry, trade unions and other interested stakeholders.
!Naruseb said the Ministry is in the process of working out consequential measures necessary to put the Act into operation. A provision of the new law, subsection 128 that deals with the prohibition of labour hire practices, is also being challenged in the High Court for its constitutionality by African Personnel Services (APS).
But members of the Labour Advisory Council that were responsible for drawing up the law said the implementation date – expected some time in May for “full roll-out” or implementation depending on how soon matters emanating from the new legislation can be finalised – would not be subjected to the outcome of the court challenge.
!Naruseb said the Ministry had engaged and consulted employers, workers and community leaders in many of the country’s regions, the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Namibian Employers Federation (NEF), the Social Security Commission and political parties represented in the National Assembly.
!Naruseb said once implemented, the Act would not only make provision for a new system of dispute resolution to replace the “ineffective” district labour courts, but would also introduce significant improvements in maternity benefits.
The law also introduces a new framework to address the displacement of workers due to retrenchment and re-organisation and new measures to facilitate meaningful collective bargaining to prevent labour disputes.
Another significant addition to the labour legislation, said !Naruseb, is that employers and employees can now address concerns about mandatory conditions of employment that are inappropriate for their companies and industries.
This means that employers and trade unions can apply for variations to the basic conditions of employment, which the Labour Ministry may grant after consultation with the tri-partite Labour Advisory Council.
Notwithstanding, the Agricultural Employers’ Association and the Namibian National Farmers Union voiced concern over a provision in Clause 28 of the new law that states that an employee who has been dismissed for disciplinary reasons be permitted to remain on the premises of the employer for up to three months from the date of dismissal, “or longer, in the event that the matter has been referred to the Labour Commissioner as a disputed dismissal”.
The contested matter of labour hire, which the Act broadly prohibits, said !Naruseb, was discussed within the National Assembly and National Council, where both houses roundly adopted the outlawing of the labour hire system.
!Naruseb said this prohibition is not intended to make unlawful the activities of legitimate employment agencies that refer or place individuals without themselves becoming a party to an employment relationship.
“Such agencies have a necessary role in national socio-economic development. Nor do we intend to prohibit companies or individuals from providing services on a contractual basis, as long as the contract for services does not perpetuate the outlawed labour hire relationship in a disguised form,” the Minister said.
He said the Ministry does not hold the view that this prohibition will result in job losses, a fear expressed by the NEF last week.
He did, however, acknowledge that the abolition might result in “some temporary disruptions”, saying that the Ministry would “manage the process” and give adequate notice of the effective date of the section dealing with this prohibition to provide an “orderly transition” for those affected.
“The prohibition on labour hire is a difficult one, considering the fact that international trends suggest that this is the way things are going,” said a labour law expert who preferred anonymity. “There should not have been a complete ban on labour hire, but rather better regulation to ensure the rights of employees are guaranteed,” the expert said.
!Naruseb further shot down NEF’s “archaic” concerns over the increased annual and compassionate leave, in which the employers’ organisation expressed concern over potential loss in productivity.
Cabinet has approved a proposal for the establishment of a tri-partite-governed National Productivity Centre, which is reportedly supposed to comprehensively address the national goal of enhanced productivity.
Caption !Naruseb pic:
Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, Alpheus !Naruseb.