By Anna Ingwafa
The National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) has warned employers to stop abusing workers and called on trade unionists to fight tooth and nail if they want to emerge victorious.
The firebrand NUNW Secretary General Evalistus Kaaronda said this last Saturday when he addressed a variety of labour-related issues at the Namibia National Teachers’ Union (NANTU) Hall at Oshakati.
He explained that for the past years the union has seen workers experiencing the most brutal, inhumane and degrading treatment at the hands of their employers for no good reason.
The union witnessed in some instances workers doing their jobs as required for more than eight months without receiving salaries from their employers.
Kaaronda gave an example of businessman Felix Mukupi who runs Njangula Security Services, whom he said had not paid his employees for some time.
Mukupi is a councillor for Sibbinda constituency and is a Swapo Party member, to which the NUNW is affiliated.
“It is evident that this employer has been in breach of not only the Namibian labour laws but also of the very principles on which Swapo as a party of the people was founded, most particularly the one on social justice, human dignity, peace and security. This high degree of insensitivity and indiscipline has reached unpalatable proportions and must be challenged and uprooted,” said Kaaronda.
The union receives common complaints from the security service sector despite calls by the NUNW and NATAU to have these practices ceased.
“It is even more painful to see that our members work for months without a single salary at security companies which have tenders with government ministries. The Ministry of Education and that of Health have been the ones mostly at fault as far as delay in the payments of their clients’ security companies is concerned.
“The NUNW rejects the notion that the workers must suffer due to the late payment by various government ministries because this is purely an administrative problem which the security companies must deal with,” fumed Kaaronda.
Apart from Mukupi, the NUNW boss also singled out certain employers for exploiting workers such as Spar in Otjiwarongo, Pick ‘n Pay, Shoprite, some government ministries, Pupkewitz Group of Companies, commercial agricultural farms and those employed through Africa Personnel Services and labour hire companies.
Government parastatals were not an exception either when it comes to unfair labour practices.
The firebrand union leader singled out Agribank for laying off a number of its employees in what he termed the “most arrogant manner” without a word being said about it by Government.
He said that workers with more than twenty years of employment experience with the bank were told that they are not suitably qualified and they have to leave.
The National Housing Enterprise (NHE) was another parastatal mentioned for unfairly laying off workers just to settle scores with trade unions.
Employers such as Ellerines and its chain furniture stores are accused of demands for certain unrealistic sales targets and if they do not reach the target, employees are given arbitrary warnings or get unfairly dismissed.
Kaaronda called on these employees including those from the furniture retailers to report the abuses to his office.
Another employer that came under fire was Harold Pupkewitz of the Pupkewitz Group.
Kaaronda accused Pupkewitz of going to his lawyers to sue the union for challenging their “industrial dictatorship” and abuse of workers.
“It does not take a genius to figure out that something is terribly wrong with the employment profile of the Pupkewitz Group of Companies in relation to the requirements of the Affirmative Action Act.
“Not only does this group of companies prefer white skinned people in strategic managerial positions, but they too have successfully failed to provide sound reasons as to why they do not have black indigenous Namibians in key managerial positions. To make matters worse, Mr Pupkewitz and his managers are hell bent on systematically victimizing workers’ representatives at these companies as well as destroying our unions operating at his companies,” claimed Kaaronda.
He said Pupkewitz is not the only one in this, claiming that Engen Namibia is another company that does not believe in black Namibian managers’ competencies.
He called on union members not to be fooled by the analysis of the new Labour Act of 2007, as presented through the media and other platforms by the Namibian Employers’ Federation (NEF), individuals and organizations.
“The president of the Namibian Employers’ Federation wants us to believe that the ugly, bad, economically backward and horrendous labour hire system is dead and buried, yet he says labour hire must be allowed to exist.
Coming from a black Namibian, this is even the more painful.
“He further argues that those who opted to see labour hire for what it is truly did so after having engaged in an ’emotionally charged cheap level of debate’,” quoted Kaaronda. He said that that was ridiculous.
Kaaronda argued that if the employers were serious and sincere about the country’s economy, they must create employment opportunities in line with the International Labour Organization’s decent work agenda.
The union rejected the notion by the president of the NEF that the only reason why labour hire stands outlawed is because NUNW is affiliated to Swapo.
According to Kaaronda, such assertion was ridiculous as “the tripartite social partners were consulted as they are all represented in the Labour Advisory Council. The problem is not so much consultation and or the alleged lack of thereof, but persuasion.
“The NEF’s ability to persuade the legislature to legislate as they lobbied was poor and they must therefore develop better arguments if they want to be taken seriously.”
He emphasized that the problem of unemployment and poverty in Namibia, just as it is in the rest of Africa, is an economic structural problem and to reduce it to a labour legislative problem is tantamount to economic sabotage.
Kaaronda said some of the economic structural problems at financial services are “problems that can easily be addressed if multinational companies like FNB, Standard Bank, etc. in the financial sector can be fully managed and controlled in Namibia and that the appointment of black Namibians as top executives of these companies not be used as window-dressing as it is the case right now with companies like FNB”.
Another structural problem is brought about by economic enclaves which present serious and counterproductive structural heterogeneities with the economy and if unsolved there will be no development in the country, he charged.
According to Kaaronda, the NEF did not talk about it because it is inconvenient for them. “The best they do is pay lip service to the need to enhance Namibia’s manufacturing capacity without any of the requisite finances. They would instead repatriate huge chunks of profits to South Africa and help grow the economy there while destroying ours this side.”
Kaaronda announced that the Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU) has served its notice on the Namibia Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) that it will embark on industrial action today.
He said that workers at NBC have suffered for too long and they have reached a point of no return and NUNW will support the strike.
He also spoke about the poor salaries paid to government employers including teachers and police, saying that the NUNW will not settle for anything less than decent salaries.