National Union of Namibian Workers secretary-general Job Muniaro talks to Toivo Ndjebela about a wide range of issues, including his views on the Swapo congress, the restructuring of SOEs and the SME Bank debacle.
Toivo Ndjebela (TN): You were virtually plucked from obscurity to lead the country’s biggest trade union federation. How has it been so far?
Job Muniaro (JM): When you are doing this type of work, you don’t just concentrate on the workers. It’s a broad mandate. You have to protect both the workers and the economy of Namibia as a country. Labour unrest in the country must be controlled to save the economy of the country. Unrest could lead to crises, and no Namibian wants that. Nobody wants to plant the seeds of civil war. All wars fought in this country originated from the pressure of the workers. So what I’m saying is that it has been an interesting journey as you try to strike that balance. Workers pay taxes that carry the economy. From where I stand, this job is more important that being a politician.
TN: You took over a federation that was mired in controversy and battling to save its body and soul. What was the first thing you did when you got here?
JM: When you come to a new place, you first have to get to know the people you find there. You have to acquaint yourself with the work culture and analyse the constitution of not only the federation, but also the affiliate unions. We had to work on unity first and ensure that all affiliates had their congresses in order. Our books are clean, and we can provide proof of that. We cleaned up the administration of the federation too.
TN: The federation is, seemingly not as visible under your stewardship as it was under your predecessor Evilastus Kaaronda. Are you succeeding in this job?
JM: The federation does not have members. Its affiliates do. So when the leader of NUNW interferes with the work of affiliates, things go wrong. I only involve myself in the affiliates’ affairs when it’s absolutely necessary, and when I’ve been formally asked to do so. But we work hard here. We had a successful negotiation for teachers’ salaries last year where we, as NUNW, said we were fully behind Nantu. Also, we have ensured that 95 percent of fishing workers secure permanent jobs. We hope to have 100 percent by the end of next year. It was a habit that fishermen were in temporary jobs and we have rectified that. We have acquired stakes in Avbob and our member’s families are exempted from paying several charges for their funerals as a result of our stake in the company. We were also instrumental in securing minimum wages for farm and domestic workers. We brought back 79 workers who were fired by their Chinese employers. But above all, we helped maintain and grow the economy of the country by containing labour unrest in the country. We don’t believe in unrest that leads to the destruction of infrastructure and the economy. We don’t burn down bridges that would cost millions to rebuild. The time for destruction is over.
TN: Are you then saying you’re a better NUNW secretary-general than Kaaronda was?
JM: We all make mistakes, but I don’t want us to blame any leader that has served this federation. Every leader felt they were doing what was best for the federation. Am I a weaker leader because I don’t insult people? We have a tripartite arrangement with government, and we deal with each other in that spirit. We don’t need to call press conferences and insult the President to be seen to be working. It’s not cowardice; it’s how leadership works. Any elected leader needs help to succeed – it’s for the benefit of everyone.
TN: There are other federations such as Tucna and Nanlo. What makes your federation better and why should workers opt for you ahead of others?
JM: We all have the same interest at heart – which is workers. Workers are the interest, unless you set up a union as a business. There’s nothing that either Nanlo or Tucna is doing better than us. I’ve earlier listed the benefits that we have established for our workers. We go the extra mile for our workers. I have just welcomed back workers from Shoprite, EBH, constructions companies and fishing companies to our unions. They left us for other unions, but came to their senses. We have a membership of 290,000 workers in this country.
TN: Speaking of Shoprite, what is being done to help those workers? Shoprite is Africa’s largest food retailer who’s CEO Whitey Basson received N$100 million in salary and bonuses last year.
JM: We had a meeting with their MD, Mr Malan, three months ago. We are being careful and visionary in dealing with this. We are not pleased that more than half of their workers are temporary, who do not enjoy any benefits. They are exploited. The company is shipping its money back to South Africa. But there are consequences. It would take us one day to close down Shoprite. It would take us one day to make those workers unemployed, and one day to destroy families who rely on those jobs.
TN: NUNW’s affiliation to Swapo has often been criticised, on the grounds that it compromises neutrality and affects basic principles that should guide the work you do. Is it something that bothers you?
JM: Democracy is the will of the people. In Britain, they have the Labour Party. In Germany, they have a workers’ party too. These are white people who feel threatened by the strength Swapo enjoys as a result of this affiliation. They want to reintroduce passive colonialism. Unity is strength and that is what threatens some people. The workers formed Swapo, and Swapo formed the NUNW.
TN: No NUNW candidate made it at the last Swapo electoral college to go to parliament. Even the additional selection of candidates overlooked your members. Does that undermine the spirit of the affiliation?
JM: It was a democratic process. There’s no automatic seat for the NUNW. If you reserve such seats, it also undermines the democratic principle of elections. True, we were a bit disappointed that we didn’t even make the presidential selection list. As a genuine partner, we expected some inclusion in order to keep the balance. It must be rectified.
TN: How critical is NUNW to the upcoming Swapo congress as possible kingmakers, and do you prefer any particular candidates?
JM: The congress is important in that it produces leaders who will lead the country and protect the interests of the country. The Swapo leadership must be strong to direct government on what should be done – not the other way. We want people who must take charge of the party. The ruling party must rule, not be ruled. The party has no candidate up to now. The process of identifying candidates has not taken place, so we have no one to back even if we wanted to.
TN: Do you plan to follow in the footsteps of hordes of NUNW leaders, who some may argue, used the federation as a stepping-stone to secure top government jobs?
JM: I did not even have an ambition to come here. I was asked to come and work here. We groom leaders here, so whoever wants anyone from here, they are welcome.
TN: Last week you urged government that TransNamib must remain under the Ministry of Works and not that of Public Enterprises. Why?
JM: Because, first, transport is a function of the works ministry and, secondly, there is no law saying TransNamib should be under another ministry. I don’t support public-private-partnerships. People use PPPs to bring in their own companies. TransNamib is firing executives while the board, which oversees the operations, remain in their jobs. They must also resign for their collective failure.
TN: You also called for the closure of the SME Bank…
JM: They must close shop. They don’t even employ Namibians. We have so many graduates here who couldn’t even be employed there, while the bank employs teachers. Teachers at a bank, but where have you heard of such a thing?