Hospitality workers shockingly underpaid

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Walvis Bay

Some tourism employees are shockingly underpaid with the majority earning less than N$1 000, while some of the workers are billed for electricity usage if they live on the premises of the establishments.

This is despite the tourism industry being one of the biggest contributors to the country’s gross domestic product and some hotels and lodges generating millions through trophy hunting, game drives as well as hosting conferences at a lucrative fee.

Some salary advices made available to New Era yesterday revealed that some of the elite lodges pay their employees a mere N$800, while qualified chefs earn N$2 000 a month.

An employee of a very popular game lodge outside Windhoek earns around N$1 000 and she gets N$4.43 for each hour worked. Her daily wages amount to N$36.95 while her basic salary is N$800. At least N$70 is also deducted for electricity.

Some of the institutions also do not pay allowances for transport, accommodation and medical aid, and they also do not make provision for pension for their poorly paid workers. When they provide accommodation and transport they reportedly charge workers for these services.

One employee of a prominent game lodge outside Windhoek said they cannot make a decent living from the starvation wages.

“I have two kids and my mother that I take care of. With a mere salary of N$800 there is not much one can do. The only good thing is that they provide accommodation at the lodge,” she said.

The Tourism and Allied Workers Union of Namibia (TAWUN) president, Ben Petrus, said the union is aware of the ridiculously low wages earned in the tourism sector.

According to him, most of the workers are general workers, chefs and cleaners.
He said that the union on numerous occasions has requested to see the financial reports of lodges.
He added that some lodges also refuse to deduct union fees from union members working at the lodges, as their way of not recognising the union.

“That is why we have on numerous occasions requested an audience with the labour ministry. It is high time we also formulated a minimum wage for the tourism industry as our people are really suffering with these low wages,” lamented the unionist.

According to him proper consultations must take place between the industry and the ministry so that the workers are better taken care of.

But he said that the union was finally granted an audience by the ministry after submitting numerous letters to see the Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, Erkki Nghimtina, who indicated a meeting would take place next month.

“Currently we, at least, are looking at N$700 each for accommodation and transport. We are also looking at a funeral assistance cover for employees,” he said.

He added that the lodges that are underpaying their workers should be blacklisted by government, by not giving them the privilege to host government conferences or workshops.

According to him his union represents about 3 000 employees in the tourism sector.
“Why should we make use of such facilities and pay thousands of dollars, while some employees do not even take home N$1 000? It should be a give and take situation – we cannot allow our people to be paid slave salaries 25 years after independence.”

The CEO of the Hospitality Association of Namibia (HAN), Gitta Paetzold, said the tourism industry is seen as glamorous, but one must take into account that it is a seasonal source of income.

She says one can argue the low wages are due to the absence of a salary structure, but yet again most of the facilities provide the basics such as accommodation, food and transport.

“One must also take into consideration that the tourism industry is one of the few that can accommodate unskilled labour, as it doesn’t take rocket science to make beds or welcome guests, and due to the fact that it is seasonal it will also be very difficult to really come up with a structure that will benefit both the employee and employer,” she said.

However, she admitted that some of the salaries are very low and worrisome.

“Our tourism industry should not be compared to the international tourism markets as they are way more advanced and many that work internationally earn salaries based on their qualifications, compared to our industry where we have to train an unskilled worker, and he or she as an intern has to work his/her way up to actually make a good salary.”

She said the issue is very delicate and needs to be approached from all angles. “One needs to look at the total earning of such facilities, qualifications of our people as well as the demand of tourism for such a facility before we can really consider a minimum wage,” said Paetzold

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