By John Ekongo
Namibia has experienced an upswing in labour unrest and industrial action this year. Although perceived as good for democracy, growth and development of the Namibian workforce’ rights and conditions, it can also dent the reputation of the country for investors who might interpret the country as the land of “a troublesome, unhappy and hard-to-please workforce”.
Secretary General of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) Evilastus Kaaronda, partially agrees with this notion but also stresses that there are a number of factors that contribute to labour unrest in the country.
“There exists a general inability of some of our unions to effectively and timeously respond to the concerns and needs of our members in good time – that is a fact,” Kaaronda commented on the recent labour strikes in the country.
He continued: “There is a combination of factors at play – some are general factors of economics, poverty, increasing prices of foodstuffs.”
Kaaronda cautions that these factors have the potential to create a “volatile situation which might reach unacceptable proportions”.
He added: “More and more of the workers’ disposable income is being eroded by this volatility that we have, not only in Namibia but across the globe.”
Kaaronda stressed that there is no alternative as economic hardships are all over the globe. “There is no other alternative, that is why there should be tripartite solutions to this – between unions, Government and private enterprise to find solutions together that are responsive to the needs of our people.”
The SG proposed that initiatives such as the Basic Income Grant are but some of many examples that can be explored in efforts to curb the burden of this volatility. He also pointed out that the Government can employ Namibian labour in some of its construction projects so that they may gain employment and thus ease their financial burdens.
NUNW, a federation body to the largest grouping of labour unions in the country, stressed that in times like these, government interventions are mandatory. He singled out the zero rating announcement by Government on certain foodstuffs as a positive example, but stressed that more needs to be done.
“Government must intervene at some point to help curb this – for example, import substitution on products that we have locally here in the country.”
Kaaronda charged that for every import commodity that the country brings in, it exports employment to other countries.
He also took a swipe at public institutions who despite seeing the hardships in the state of living in Namibia, are acting at “cross-purposes”. Kaaronda singled out the tariff increments by the City of Windhoek as one such example.
“On the one hand Government is trying to mitigate, and then you have public institutions raising their tariffs – you can’t behave as if you are blind to the needs of the people,” he opined.
Kaaronda said the union calls for a tripartite approach to the problems, adding that this will go a long way in aiding both parties to chart genuine concerns about labour relations in the country.
Similarly, he charged that active engagement between the union and public and private enterprise can create a harmonious environment in which both parties are able to detect labour problems and resolve them easily before they get out of hand.
At the same time, Kaaronda called for employers to be realistic about the salaries and benefits they pay their workers.
“We need to be realistic about salaries and pay the workers good salaries and benefits that will not hook them to poverty. It must be able to help anybody to live through this economic hardship,” concludes Kaaronda.