Cleaners at the University of Namibia (Unam)’s main campus have complained about being paid starvation wages that are barely enough to enable them to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The 72 employees say apart from social security benefits they do not enjoy any other benefits. The cleaners work under various companies contracted by the university. Currently the cleaners operate under Susan Cleaning Services, whose contract ends this year.
The cleaners told New Era they currently earn N$2 030 a month, which includes a basic salary of N$1 590 plus N$440 for transport. There is no provision for housing, pension or medical aid benefits. They recently got a meager N$40 increment for this year, which was added to their transport allowance.
The cleaners want an increase of at least N$1 500 to be able to make ends meet, as some are single mothers who are the sole breadwinners in their homes.
“We’re suffering, but still choose to do our work, because many people are sitting on the streets without jobs. There are days I come to work on an empty stomach, because I don’t have anything to eat at home, but the staff here don’t know what I go through,” remarked one employee, who preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation.
Another cleaner said she has been with the university for over 22 years, but has no benefits or job incentives. “Since 1995 when I started here, I never got a bonus. I also don’t have pension and should I retire tomorrow I will walk out empty-handed,” lamented another cleaner, who requested that her name be withheld.
Furthermore, the cleaners say they clean large areas, which requires at least two workers but the current contractor refuses to employ additional people. “I have to clean ten classrooms, 30 offices and sidewalks alone and I have to figure out how to clean these areas,” said one.
The cleaners have written letters to former president Hifikepunye Pohamba and President Hage Geingob to visit them, so that they can highlight their suffering at the institution of higher learning.
In a letter, dated May 2015, addressed to Geingob, which he has not yet responded to, they said they are not sure if Unam management values them as vital and contributing partners. “If Unam fails hygienically, we also have failed, that’s why we take our jobs to heart.”
They further said they understand it is the university’s right and prerogative to subcontract its services as they deem fit, but as far as the cleaning service is concerned the outsourcing was done at the expense of the cleaners, who are heavily exploited by sub-contractors.
An employee noted that the union they are assigned to has not been helpful either.
The owner, Susan Nowases, said they pay the cleaners according to what is stipulated in the contract with Unam. Nowases said before they took over the contract cleaners were underpaid and during the first year the company gave them 5 percent salary increment and this year they only gave an increment on transport allowance.
Unam public relations officer John Haufiku said, as a socially responsible oganisation, they implemented a minimum wage for cleaners in 2013, which the contracted company must adhere to, “meaning a contractor is free to pay the employees more.
“This was long before the current minimum wage came into effect, which is more suited to domestic workers. Unam underlines that cleaners on contract at our institution earn more than what is prescribed by law for domestic workers,” said Haufiku.
He said their estate department has already begun drafting policy that will make the annual increase a contractual obligation. Unfortunately, he said the current contract has no such contractual obligation to change the annual increase, based on their wishes as an institution.
Haufiku said cleaners, who claim that they have worked at Unam for long periods, were actually employed by outside contractors, not the university.
“Their various employers should be giving them severance payments at the end of each contract. These are the terms that short contractors may offer and it is what the law prescribes.”