By Charles Tjatindi
President Hifikepunye Pohamba has strongly condemned the ill-treatment of workers through victimisation, unnecessary retrenchments and dismissals, noting that such practices have no place in an independent Namibia.
The Namibian Head of State made these remarks when he addressed a large crowd gathered here to mark International Workers’ Day, yesterday.
Pohamba said the plight of the Namibian workers cannot go unnoticed or be ignored as workers are the driving force of any country’s economy, without which the economy comes to a standstill. He appealed to those fortunate Namibian workers who enjoy decent working conditions to think of others such as security guards and farm workers who may not necessarily be enjoying the same privileges.
“It is always disheartening to read or hear about incidences of harsh treatment of workers by their employers. The plight of these hardworking Namibians should therefore not escape our focus on this international day of worker’s solidarity,” he said.
Pohamba noted that a sound labour atmosphere is crucial. Without sound labour relations in both the private and public sectors, the attainment of National Development Plans (NDPs) and Vision 2030 will not be possible.
According to the President, the hostile rhetoric often heard gives the country a bad name, and discourages potential investors from exploring business interests in Namibia. He said the country would not be able to attract investors if its industrial and labour climate appears volatile or unpredictable. In addition, such attitude has a negative effect on Namibia’s competitive rating internationally, he noted.
Citing the recent closure of Ramatex Textiles, the President noted that although the closure was a result of global market forces, the Namibian Government has learnt lessons from the whole experience.
Noting that Ramatex’s closure was one of the negative developments in the Namibian economy, Pohamba encouraged its former workers not to lose hope or despair, but instead use the skills and expertise they have gained throughout their engagement with the textile company to advance income-generating activities. He said now more than ever before, the Namibian economy demands the expertise of entrepreneurs, who would initiate projects that would consequently benefit others.
“We must become more innovative to provide solutions that can create permanent and decent jobs for all our workers. It is our duty to answer the call of Namibian workers,” said Pohamba.
A large number of people, mostly workers from the harbour town’s large factories, turned up to, among other things, pay homage to those who sacrificed their lives for the attainment of better working conditions for the Namibian worker. It was through such sacrifices that improvements were made to the working conditions of many workers in Namibia, as well as the abolishment of the notorious contract labour system.
Under the contract labour system, workers were housed in hostels in extremely poor conditions. Up to 10 workers were accommodated in small rooms, where they slept on the concrete floor.
It was also very difficult for the workers to challenge the contract labour system due to the close collaboration that existed between their employers and the colonial regime. If they left their jobs, before the expiry of their contracts they risked jail, or were forcibly returned to their employers.
This year’s May Day celebrations were marked under the theme; “Workers reject unemployment, retrenchment and demand permanent and decent jobs for all”.
Meanwhile, in Windhoek the May Day celebrations took place at the United Nations Plaza where less than 200 people turned up.
The gathering was addressed by the president of Namibia Financial Institutions Union (Nafinu), David Shikulo, who called for an end to retrenchments. Shikulo said the recent wave of retrenchments has left thousands of people jobless.
Shikulo also complained about the University of Namibia graduates who do not get employment and said the trend should be reversed.
He called on workers to unite and said it is the only way that the plight of the workers can be addressed seriously.
He also called for speedy implementation of the new Labour Act.