…”Let me also warn the workers to maintain vigilance and not be led astray by misguided
individuals who try to use emotive issues such as land and labour relations for the purpose of causing
instability.”-President Hage Geingob
Today I addressed the May Day Rally in Oshakati, Oshana Region, attended by citizens from all walks of life.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to all our working men and women across the country who lost their lives while carrying out their duties during the past year. May their souls rest in peace.
There is a saying that reads as follows, “Without labour nothing prospers.” What this means is that pursuing prosperity is futile without you, our workers. You are the fire that ignites the engine of our economy. You are and will always be Namibia’s most valuable asset in the fight against poverty and in the pursuit of a prosperous future.
It is due to this fact, that despite a long and taxing trip to the United Nations in New York, from which I returned only a few days ago, I decided to come here and join you in celebrating May Day with you.
May Day 2016, is taking place under the important theme, “Workers demand effective protection on Health and Safety.” As you are all aware, our history of struggle started with the workers, who at that time had to endure the humiliation of the inhumane labour contract system which was implemented by the South African Apartheid Government. Because of our experience with the deplorable conditions under which workers were placed, upon attainment of independence, we introduced the Namibian Labour Act to amongst others; regulate basic terms and conditions of employment and protect employees from unfair labour practices.
Chapter 4 of the Act explicitly outlines the rules and regulations with regards to the health, safety and welfare of employees and is clear about what is expected from both employers and employees in this regard. Under the Act all employers are obligated to provide a safe working environment, which does not cause risk to the health of employees and has adequate facilitates for the safety of employees.
During my consultations with stakeholders in the economic sector and at several high profile platforms, I have expressed my sentiments regarding the welfare of workers in Namibia.
It is my conviction that all workers should be treated in a humane and respectable manner. Therefore, all employers, from business owners to farm owners, must ensure that workers are provided with adequate facilities such as housing and sanitation, for the protection of their health and safety and for the respect of their human dignity because as William Clinton said, “Work is about more than making a living, as vital as that is. It’s fundamental to human dignity, to our sense of self- worth as useful, independent, free people.” So as useful, independent and free people, I promise you as your President to ensure that your human dignity is always protected. As a farm owner myself, I have endeavored to lead by example and ensure that workers on my farm are provided with decent housing, running water and toilet facilities. I challenge all other to follow suit without delay.
Over the past several months, I have received several disturbing reports regarding workplace safety around the country. It seems that there are a number of business people and companies, both local and foreign that believe it is fine to cut corners and subject our workers to unhygienic, hazardous and dangerous conditions in the workplace. This situation is even exacerbated by the fact that a number of our workers have lost their lives or are suffering serious health consequences because of these conditions.
I want to reassure you that I am following up on all these reports and through the Honourable Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, will ensure that appropriate measures are put in place to prevent such situations and incidents in the future.
Let me take this opportunity to remind all business people, heads of companies and investors – Namibian laws should be respected. We create a conducive environment for business in which you have opportunities to conduct your business safely and successfully. Just as Government provides you with a safe environment characterized by peace and stability, in which you can do business, you should provide the workers with a safe environment in which they can help you do business. Don’t forget that without our workers, your companies would be defunct. In Namibia our workers are our pride so treat them with the respect they deserve.
I also want to encourage our workers to pull their weight as well. Workers also have their obligations as well and those must always be adhered to. Just as employers have responsibility towards workers, workers also have responsibilities towards their employers. It is not a one-way street but a situation whereby employers, employees and Government should pull together in one direction in the spirit of Harambee. Let us promote Harambee in the workplace not for the benefit of individuals, or individual groups of people, but for the entire Namibian house.
Let our actions always be driven by a genuine desire to improve our country and not by a desire to cause chaos or to settle political scores.
During my State of the Nation Address earlier last month, I unveiled my plan for steering Namibia towards prosperity – The Harambee Prosperity Plan. The Plan is built on five pillars, namely:
Effective Governance and Service Delivery;
Infrastructure Development; and
International Relations and Cooperation.
As workers, you have a pivotal role to play in the implementation and ultimate success of this plan. You will be at the helm several of the pillars such as economic advancement, social progression and infrastructure development. Many of you here today, will be involved in a number of projects, aimed at improving our infrastructure which in turn will solidify our country’s position as a logistics and service centre for the Southern African region.
Given the significance of our workers regarding the implementation of the Harambee Plan, it is crucial that the NUNW as well as other affiliated Unions, integrate the Harambee Plan into their plans and align their strategic objectives with its five pillars. The Harambee ideals must permeate through all sectors of our economy and amongst all stakeholders.
Just as I have informed stakeholders within Government to avoid the silo mentalities and pull in one direction, I would like to urge our Labour Unions and our workers to to unite for a common struggle towards prosperity and economic emancipation. It has been said that, “By union the smallest states thrive. By discord the greatest are destroyed.” Namibia may be a small country, population wise, but if we buy into the Harambee principle, if we pull together in one direction to unite as building blocks for the Namibian House, if we ensure that no Namibian feels left out, then we can become a nation that will thrive.
Therefore, put aside divisions amongst yourselves which has created a situation in which various unions are opposing each other, not for the benefit of workers, but for the benefit of competing egos. Think Namibia first before you think of your own interests.
Finally, I want to touch an an issue which is of significant importance to our workers, the issue of land. As I indicated during my inaugural State of the Nation Address, I have a personal commitment to addressing land reform and provision of affordable housing to all Namibians. During my consultations with the NUNW, I touched on the issue of land and housing and I want to state that over the next several months, I will be engaging all stakeholders to ensure that we tackle the land issue together, as Namibians, as comrades dedicated towards one common cause – Prosperity for all.
Let me leave you with this quote by David McKay who said, “Let us realize that: the privilege to work is a gift, the power to work is a blessing, the love of work is success!”
Namibian workers, comrades. As free and independent Namibians, you have the gift of work and privilege to work in humane and respectable conditions, protected by your Government. You are blessed with the power to work and by loving your work, you will ensure that Namibia achieves the success of prosperity. Prosperity for all in the Namibian House.
Long live the Namibian workers! Long live the NUNW! Long live Namibia! One Namibia, One Nation!
I thank you.