The Christian Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Namibia might have to start compensating its employees as stipulated by the country’s labour law after it lost a labour case in the High Court yesterday.
The congregation dragged the Social Security Commission to court in May 2016 after the Commission refused to deregister the church as a company and employer.
“The congregation is trying to evade its obligations under the SSC Act and this court cannot allow employees to be unprotected in the event they fall ill, become pregnant or die,” explained Judge Petrus Unengu.
The congregation approached the High Court, stating that its followers are not employees and thus the congregation cannot be regarded as an employer and it does not regard itself as one.
Furthermore there is no employment contract between the congregation and its followers even though they take a vow of obedience and poverty to serve as full-time servants of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
According to SSC, the followers are regarded as employees as the congregation registered the church itself as a company. Based on the investigations conducted by SSC, the followers carry out duties for a fixed period between 07h45 to 16h45, Mondays to Fridays.
Each follower receives a non-negotiated allowance of N$940 per month for the work or time spent performing duties. The investigations further revealed that the followers are mandated to give a one-month notice should they wish to terminate their services with the church. The church has 2,448 registered members from their 44 branches countrywide.
“The court agrees with SSC that the allowances comply with Section 1 of the Labour Act,” said the judge.
Section 1 of the Labour Act states that any person performing duties and rendering services is entitled to receive a remuneration.
However, the church argued that there is no employment relationship as the members have voluntarily devoted their lives to serving God, and carrying out their duties is merely a lifestyle and not a job, even though they failed to explain why they registered themselves as an employer.
“The congregation cannot pick and choose which laws should apply to them and which may not … it is evident that an employment relationship exists between the two parties,” explained Unengu, adding that the church cannot get a free card just because it is doing the work of God.