AS much one takes note and congratulates the newly elected leadership of the Namibian Domestic and Allied Workers Union (NDAWU), the lingering and apparent and pertinent question is whether domestic workers should and must have any cause for celebrations?
This is because workers in this sector have for long remained a benign flock without a shepherd. This despite the fact workers in this sector have remained among the wretched in Namibia after 25 years of independence.
This is while the rest of the country has been seeming to enjoy the fruits of independence, that is liberty and justice, among many other rights and freedoms, material and otherwise. But to domestic workers and other workers, including petrol attendants as their industrial action last year testified, such rights and freedoms, to say the least, have been close to non-existent at worse, and at best only on paper.
While their union has been in existence, their plight has been seeming not to be heared about and without any voice, and they have seemed to be leaderless.
In fact this is not only a situation akin to the domestic workers but many workers in Namibia whose leaders, instead of attending and championing the rights and freedoms of their members, have mostly seemed toothless at best, and at worst strange bedfellows with job providers to the extent of rendering the concept of unionism in Namibia hollow and meaningless, if not a mockery. Meanwhile, the rights and freedoms of the workers in the various, if not most sectors, have remained only in theory.
Too often despite the existence of the various unions in different sectors, with the exception of a few sectors, workers have often been left to fend for themselves, pitted usually against powerful job providers.
The result has been, instead of being partners in the production chain, often they have been finding themselves to be slaves who every day of their working days are victimised if they dare raise their voices in protest of their pitiful, exploitative and enslaving working conditions.
It is pleasing to hear of the minimum wage for domestic workers hammered out of late but taking cue from other sectors, one cannot but say seeing is believing, and that the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
If one would have to take a cue from other sectors, like those of farm workers, and petrol attendants, then it is just a matter of hoping to see whether anything may transpire from the vision of a minimum wage for domestic workers, now and in the foreseeable future.
It has how been about two decade since the Kameeta Commission came up with the recommendations for the improvement of wages and working conditions of farm workers.
A few years down the line can we really say that such recommendations have been implemented with the desired outcomes? Could we say with certainty that the situation of farm workers is any better today than it was before and shortly after the Kameeta Commission?
I would take off my hat to anyone who could today give me that empirical evidence. On the contrary what we are continuing to hear and see is that somehow some of the farms, especially commercial ones, are no more than crop fields reminiscent of the days of slavery, and no-go zones, closed to even labour inspectors and union leaders, to perpetuate such enslavement.
Thus unions on such farms is an alien concept to such workers.
As much it became obvious during the industrial strike by the petrol attendants last year that despite the study of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) of 2008, that revealed their starving wages and inhuman living conditions, that nothing had been done.
The LaRRI study was not only damning but also unequivocal that petrol station workers are part of the country’s large number of vulnerable workers.
“They endure long working hours – in many cases significantly more than the 45 ‘ordinary’ hours per week plus 10 hours of overtime as stipulated in the Labour Act. A working day of 11-15 hours is common, and the requirements of overtime payment as set out in the law are often not adhered to.
“Service station workers enjoy few benefits and issues of health and safety are not considered adequately,” the study states.
But since and until last year nothing much seemed to have been done about the inhuman working conditions of petrol attendants. Not only this but despite their pitiful working and living conditions one has been hearing little or nothing at all about their plight, let alone the recommendations of the LaRRI report.
This is partly because job providers in this sector have been somehow allergic to unionism and not amenable to suggested improvements.
The industrial strike by petrol attendants seem to have come and gone, and whether the lot of the petrol attendants have bettered in any significant way, is doubtful despite public pretences by the sector, including the unions in this sector, in this regard.
Most recently one is reminded of the plight of a technician at the Langer Heinrich Uranium (LHU), and his lone struggle to get the company assist him after he was injured on duty.
It took the media to highlight the issue before the company could realise its responsibility towards its technician. Where the unions were in this regard is a million Namibian dollars question. Can the workers really in this regard have any much hope in their unions?
While certainly one must welcome the new leadership of the domestic workers, and as much the minimum wage, often as other sectors have proven, there has been a big world of difference between such good intentions of minimum wages and the actual wages. Thus one cannot but wait with bated breath whether the minimum wage, and the new leadership of the domestic workers, taking serious note of their promises, would not just be more broken promises?