Looking at the Workers’ day celebration, one cannot help but wonder whether workers believe in their cause anymore. The attendance at the workers’ day celebrations was disappointing, to say the least.
Over the past few years, there have been many high profile cases regarding the workers’ struggles against inequality and exploitation. One would assume that they would flock to listen to the message on the day dedicated to the workers. But the scenes shown on TV on Workers’ Day showed a bunch of kids and few workers at the rally that was addressed by the President. Why have workers become apathetic to the workers’ struggle?
The Namibian labour landscape is littered with examples of the workers’ fight for equality and their betrayal by the unions that claim to fight for the rights of the workers. In 2015, around 200 employees of Shoprite in Rundu went on a strike after claiming exploitation. They were all dismissed and new employees were employed in their places. Today they are all sitting at home and no one has taken up their case. Unions are more interested in fighting each other than fighting for the workers.
In Walvis Bay, around 4000 fishermen went on strike after they claimed slave like treatment at sea. They claimed that they are required to work up to 21 hours per day without overtime being paid. Needless to say, the fishing companies denied that they exploit workers. But during disciplinary hearings, it was proved that the fishermen work excessive hours and many of them are paid peanuts. Yet, the fishing companies exported 10 billion dollars’ worth of fish in the 2015-2016 fishing season.
The empty stadiums send a disturbing message. The workers have lost faith in those that claim to represent them, and this is going to be disastrous for labour issues in our country. Collective bargaining was enacted to enable orderly labour relations. When workers know that their unions will fight for their rights and interests, they will submit to the procedures set by the law.
Once this fails, we are encouraging self-help and this can only end badly. The unions need to re-discover their militancy and use their power to fight for the rights of the workers. The alternative is chaos on the labour landscape.
Michael Munika is a former unionist involved, he is currently involved in labor activism fighting for the betterment of the workers’ conditions in Namibia.