New Era journalist, Kuzeeko Tjitemisa, this week caught-up with the secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), Job Muniaro, the country’s largest trade union federation, to discuss issues related to the union. Here is what he had to say.
KT: Why is NUNW still relevant?
JM: “Thank you for coming and also for having the interest of workers at heart. You see, there is no way in this world where the interest of the workers cannot be represented. The relevancy is there, because when you look into the issue of representation, every worker cannot represent him or herself, workers must be able to be represented by the institutions of their choice, leaders of their choice. This alone makes the NUNW relevant. Also, internationally all workers owe to be represented, so there is nowhere that we have workers that will not be represented. So the relevancy is there, in terms of representation, in terms of workers’ rights, health and safety issues and all these things.”
KT: What has been the federation’s role in helping contain job losses that are currently going on?
JM: “You see, we are not the administrator of government or administrator of private companies or not even administrators of international institutions, so for us to have a meaningful assistance in containing job losses is minimal. Under normal circumstances, a person will tell you that mining uranium is no longer needed anywhere else and we need to retrench.
We are not determining the value of our own minerals, we are not determining the value of our own products, our values are determined by somebody else, we are not even selling our own products and minerals in the country, so how do you want us to contain jobs as leaders even as union leaders?
Government in most of the mines does not even have shares, they cannot even talk on how business should be done, they will only be waiting for taxes and this tax money is the money that they provide services with.
So the containment of jobs is quite difficult from where we stand. I think all of us need to sit around the table and think how best can we have a decisive right in terms of our minerals.
Right now, diplomatically we are exporting jobs and we cannot contain it. Because this is how the agreement is.
You give them fishing rights, they do value addition outside the country and when it comes back it is up to them, up to the person who buys it.
Also, government is currently dishing out work permits to foreigners in the name of experts but most of these so-called experts end up pushing wheelbarrows in the construction industry and this is how the locals are losing jobs in this country.
Go to Chinatown, these people are importing foreigners to sell in their shops, do you want to tell me that
Namibians cannot be employed to sell?
Job losses are not like seeds you plant and grow, sometimes job losses come with the consequences of mismanagement, sometimes it comes from the economic downfall, and in this case the issue of administration, especially the administration of government, is to be blamed.
When you analyse these things, you must go back to your own institutions, and sometimes you find that money that was supposed to keep some projects, and many projects in the country that should have helped kept jobs, were inflated.
And when these projects are inflated the money must come from government coffers or any other institution coffers and when the coffers are depleted it is automatically clear that there will be no jobs.
The issue of administration especially the administration of government has really killed our employment system and we have lost a lot of jobs in the construction industry. We have lost close to 18,000 jobs.
We need to sit down and see where we have gone wrong and where we can improve in terms of employment otherwise we will continue losing jobs because if our own laws do not protect our own people, comrades, we must be able to do it as soon as possible. Comrade, we must enact laws. Chinese, South African or Italian companies should be sub-contractors or sub-sub-contractors in terms of our laws.”
KT: In what way is NUNW helping government to overcome the current economic difficulties?
JM: “We don’t have financial assistance, we have mental assistance to anyone who wants our assistance. We have very good experience in terms of what is happening to the workers or to the Namibian people because we are feeling the pain as workers. Our doors are open to those that need our services.”
KT: Why haven’t we seen any worker strike/demonstration led by NUNW since you took over? What is your alternative to strikes?
JM: “It is high time that we learn from our own mistakes. Strikes are not a solution to our problems, at all. Here at this centre, the NUNW, we are providing leadership, we always make sure that we address that thing that leads to strikes.
What we are doing is we sit around the table with employers and see what the problem is and we solve it without leading to strikes.
The strike is nothing, the strike is something in the past. These days we talk and we solve our difference around the table. We made them [employers] to understand. We make sure that here we solve problems.
These days it is very rare that you find petty cases being brought in front of the labour court. This is because here we provide leadership, we talk.”
KT: Is the alliance with Swapo problematic in that it compromises workers because the NUNW doesn’t want to upset Swapo?
JM: “Who is Swapo, Swapo is the people, and most of our members are members of Swapo anyway. What’s the difference? Swapo was formed by the workers, so there is no way that the NUNW is going to leave Swapo. In Germany you have labour movements affiliated to political parties. What is the difference? There is nothing wrong with NUNW affiliation to the Swapo party. No one own Swapo, Swapo is owned by the people, the owners of Swapo is us, there is no way we will leave Swapo.”
KT: Unions have been losing members. What is the cause?
JM: “I don’t know what you mean by generally, but loss of members is only when they get retrenched and in terms of our constitution you must be employed to be a member of a union.
Yes, some might leave one union to join another and that’s what we call democracy. That is not a loss because the aim is to be represented. But here at the NUNW we have not lost members but our members have lost jobs, it is a pity our members are losing jobs. It is job losses that contribute to us losing members.”
KT: The fact that unions themselves own commercial entities – such as Labour Investment Holdings (LIH) which is owned by NUNW – does it conflict when it comes to labour issues?
JM: “I don’t know where the conflict will come from because I don’t think there is a restriction in terms of making business in making provision for any person’s interest. Generally, there is no harm, why should workers not make business in their own country, and other people who are not Namibians but workers from other countries are allowed to make business here?
I don’t think this is something that I need to answer. Any Namibian has the right to make business in this country.
Your question should have been what the benefit is thereof. But the benefits are there for all to see.
For instance, today if you are an NUNW members you get discount at Pick n Pay. Farm workers have never had benefits before but today farm workers pay N$10 per month on funeral cover. And in return they get free funeral cover and N$6,000 when their family pass on. NUNW is the only federation that has funeral benefits in this country.”
KT: NUNW was claiming that its members were being purged after the Swapo congress of last year. What did they mean and has the purging stopped?
JM: “We never said that, I got the statement here if you want it, the statement that we released in December, we never said that.
What we did is we called for unity, unity that we can see, even for blind people to feel it.”
KT: How does NUNW position itself ahead of next year’s general elections, having failed to secure a place on the Swapo parliamentary list in 2014 and having failed to make any impact at the congress last year?
JM: “Like you said, the Swapo parliamentary list, you have so many ways to get our members to parliament, either through the ballot box or the appointment by President Hage Geingob that has the right to do that and if that has not happened is not a crime to us. That is the will of people, if they have never wanted us to be there is fair, that’s democracy. It is crucial to have representatives at all platforms but that is left for the electoral to decide.”
KT: When is the next NUNW elective congress?
JM: “Next year around June/July.”