NHE Makes U-turn in Court

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By Kuvee Kangueehi

Windhoek

The National Housing Enterprise (NHE) is now seeking an out of court settlement with 31 employees that it retrenched in the course of the year 2006.

Just a few seconds after the NHE Chief Executive Officer Vincent Hailulu was called to the witness stand to testify, the lawyers representing NHE said they would consult with the lawyers representing the workers to settle the matter out of court.

The labour case has been dragging on for more than 18 months. Yesterday, when the case finally started in the District Labour Court in Katutura, the NHE offered to negotiate for an out of court settlement.

The retrenched workers are 10 former managers and 21 ordinary employees who were retrenched during a restructuring process at the state enterprise.
According to the former NHE general manager of finance and administration Edwin Beukes, the retrenched workers are not happy with the retrenchment process, as all procedures were not followed.

Beukes noted that the labour commissioner was also not informed about the retrenchments as per requirement of the Labour Act and the NHE conditions of service.

The former manager noted that initially they were informed that the restructuring and reorganization would not result in many job losses, and that it was meant to cut costs at the company.

But Beukes said that during the process 31 workers of the 101-member workforce were retrenched, which represents over 31% of the employees.

The former manager said the retrenchment came as a big surprise to him because although the restructuring process was ongoing, there was never any suggestion that his contract of employment would be terminated.
He said his belief was fortified by the NHE’s conduct in its granting general salary increases during July 2006.

However, Beukes said, six days after being informed of his salary increase, he received a letter from Hailulu informing him that his position of general manager of finance and administration had become redundant.

The former manager added that although Hailulu stated that those affected would be contacted for possible redeployment, he was never contacted.

Beukes also questioned the entire retrenchment process and said it appears that Hailulu used the retrenchment clause in the Labour Act to unfairly dismiss 31 employees.

He noted that although the NHE claims that the retrenchment was to cut costs, the process had the opposite effect as the company now has more employees.

He said the new NHE organogram consists of 156 job positions compared to the old job establishment of 101 staff members. He said in fact, with an increase of more than 50 additional positions, it was difficult to believe or to logically reason that employment costs were reduced.

Windhoek-based lawyer Jefta Tjitemisa, who is representing the workers, accused the lawyers representing the NHE of playing delaying tactics.

Tjitemisa said since Monday when the case was expected to be heard, the NHE lawyers brought in six applications, which were all rejected by the court.

Tjitemisa was expected to meet with the NHE lawyers yesterday afternoon to look at the offer. However, many of the retrenched workers said they would not settle for anything less than re-employment.

If no settlement is reached, the case will continue this morning in the District Labour Court in Katutura.

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