Like other countries in the SADC region, Namibia also faces an avalanche of challenges when it comes to issues related to job creation and the upholding of labor laws. The government database indicates that there are over 64 900 job seekers. The Patriot recently interviewed Minister of Labor, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation Erkki Nghimtima. During the wide-ranging interview Nghimtina spoke extensively on the mismatch between qualifications produced by tertiary institutions and labor market needs.
“This results in graduates being unable to find jobs or create jobs for themselves. The other problem is the fact that the labour market is simply not able to absorb all jobseekers because it does not expand at a pace that is commensurate with the growing working population, said the minister adding that the situation is largely attributed to the fact that there appears not to be some interactions between institutions of Higher Learning and other training institutions with the labour market, hence some institutions academic programmes are preserved as supply driven.
Herewith the full interview:
What are the Ministry`s Plans for 2017?
The Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation has an Integrated Strategic Plan that is aligned to NDP5 and Harambee Prosperity Plan (HHP). The Ministry`s Strategic Plan has specific strategic objectives, namely:
To ensure social justice at the workplace
To ensure social dialogue, that is the promotion of industrial peace and decent work, amongst others,
To ensure safe and health conditions at the workplace,
To ensure the promotion and creation of employment,
To ensure the promotion and advancement of employment equity objectives, and
To ensure the provision of social safety nets for all workers.
What are the challenges faced by the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation?
The country`s unemployment rate is very high, especially among the youth and school leavers. Since the country`s Economic Growth Prospects do not look promising, it is obvious that the economy is not likely to create many job opportunities to make a dent on the unemployment problem. If it creates some jobs which are not necessarily decent jobs as one wishes to be.
Another challenge the Ministry faces is the Budget shortfall. The Ministry will therefore try harder to execute its mandate fully with the money at its disposal. However the Ministry has a good appreciation of the country`s economic challenges and therefore shall try to do its level best with whatever resources at its disposal under the circumstances. It is believed that with limited resources and unlimited imagination, the Ministry will be able to overcome the challenges it faces as it goes about its business.
What mechanisms have been put in place by the Ministry to ensure that the country has a productive workforce that enjoys harmonious industrial relations, decent work and full employment?
The question addresses the very core of the Ministry`s mandate. Its business as a Ministry is to see to it that harmonious industrial relations enjoys priority attention. It ensures that the relevant labour and employment laws are complied with and all labour related disputes are handled within the frame work of the Labour Act and other applicable legislation. With regard to productivity, there is a general perception that the labour sector is not productive, the Ministry has therefore taken an initiative to establish a National Productivity Centre in the country with a sole purpose of promoting a sense of productivity amongst workers and employers alike. The Ministry hence Namibia ascribes fully to the productive decent work for all as the vehicle to prosperity and human dignity.
Unemployment in Namibia is estimated at 30%. What measures has the Ministry taken to address the unemployment backlog particularly among the youth?
The Ministry was given an additional responsibility of employment creation from 2015.
That of course does not mean that it would create jobs for the jobless. It simply means the Ministry has to coordinate and promote employment creation efforts by all sectors of the economy that are aimed at creating job opportunities for the unemployed. The Ministry has started solicited ideas from all the regions across the country on how best as a country could embark upon projects that seek to utilize natural resources within Regions in order to create jobs and take people off the streets.
Some of these ideas are now translated into concrete Project Proposals accompanied by cost estimates for funding.
What are the major issues hampering employment creation?
It has been already alluded to the fact that when the economy is not growing at a desired rate of growth, it is regrettable so, that the economy would not be in a position to create the desired number of employment opportunities. That is a bit of a challenge. However it is also true that not every economic growth that translates itself in job growth.
Youth unemployment continues to be rife in Namibia, so much so that some graduates are sitting at home despite holding tertiary qualifications. What is your plan to redress this situation?
It is true that unemployment does not only affect the unskilled and those who have no formal qualifications, but tertiary institution graduates do also struggle to find jobs. This is linked to the above point. This is largely attributed to the fact that there appears not to be some interactions between institutions of Higher Learning and other training institutions with the labour market, hence some institutions academic programmes are preserved as supply driven.
This is a mismatch between qualifications produced by tertiary institutions and labour market needs as they should be. This results in graduates being unable to find jobs or create jobs for themselves. The other problem is the fact that the labour market is simply not able to absorb all jobseekers because it does not expand at a pace that is commensurate with the growing working population.
The Ministry would like therefore to liaise with credible training providers in order to encourage them to give priority consideration to skills development, especially vocational skills which will make young people employable in the labour market as well as the recognition of prior practical and appropriate skills. On top of that, the Ministry has a database system that registers jobseekers thereby making it possible for them to be connected with the registered vacancies that match their qualification or training.
Due to the economic downturn in 2016, ministries were requires to prioritize their need in order to get maximum results with limited resources. Which areas were identified as priority areas to ensure that the objectives of the Ministry are not compromised?
As it has been pointed out, the ministry has the Strategic Plan with Strategic Objectives.
The Ministry has no plan to scale down on the on the execution of these strategic objectives, however, it has to plan methodically and practically in order to ensure that it works efficiently and in as cost effective manner.
The funds allocated to the Ministry will enable it to achieve its strategic objectives, even though the Budget reduction has, in some way, made it a challenge for it to carry out all activities that it wishes to carry out. However, concentration and focus is on what matters first and most. The areas of social dialogue, compliance with employment conditions, prevention and resolution of labour disputes, employment creation coordination and national obligations will not be compromised at all.
Due to the economic situation, ministries were asked to freeze vacant positions. How has thos affected your Ministry in terms of recruitment as some staff members go into retirement while others resign?
The directives from the authorities of the State regard to the filling of vacancies do not place a moratorium on the filling of all vacant positions, but OMA`s may still fill those critical positons to the smooth running of any Ministry, Office or Agency. This Ministry is still able to fill its critical vacant position provided that they are funded. Recruitment continues in this regard.
Do you think trade unions play a role in the maintenance of a sound working environment in Namibia?
As a Government, it values the principle of tripartism whereby the Ministry, trade unions and employers work together in ensuring that there are sound labour relations and that industrial disputes are addressed through genuine negotiations. Organized labour, that is trade unions, do have an important role to play in the maintenance of harmonious industrial relations. They are a constitutional creation hence indispensable in a functional democracy like Namibia. They might appear a nuisance to the uninformed but they remain very critical to the sincere and mindful employers and to the State itself.
As a Minister of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, what do you make of the increasing number of trade union movements?
The Labour Act makes provision for freedom of association. Workers therefore have the constitutional right to organize themselves as long as they are doing so within the parameters of the law. Therefore, the number is not a factor in the eyes if the law.
Flouting of Labour Laws, especially Laws by foreign companies, has been a thorn in Namibia`s labour system in recent years. How is your Ministry addressing this?
The Ministry has a responsibility to ensure that labour and employment laws are complied with by all employers whether foreign or local. If any employer is found wanting or to have violated any provision of the law administered by this Ministry, such an employer will be dealt with in terms of such law regardless of his/her/its origin or status.
Are the records of employers who break labour laws facing punitive measures in recent years?
The Ministry keeps record of all labour violations either by employers or trade unions. Therefore it is not only employers who break the labour and employment laws.
Which employers are most prone to break labour laws, local companies or foreigners? Which laws are violated the most in the labour sector by employers?
All employers whether local or foreign are all prone to break the law in one way or the other. All laws, the Labour Act, Social Security Act, Affirmative Action (Employment) Act and Employment Service Act are violated by role players in the labour sector. To clear the matter, there is no single law that is immune from violation otherwise there are no police and courts in the country.
Does the Ministry have an update database of jobseekers in Namibia, if yes, how many jobseekers are there currently in the country?
The Ministry has National Integrated Employment Information (NEIS) and it has 64 911 jobseekers on at this point. The Social Security Commission, which falls under the Ministry of Labour has in recent months made headlines for several transactions involving worker`s money. As recent as last year, N$11 million of workers` money mysteriously diverted purportedly for the benefit of the so called “struggle kids”.
The Commission has still not recovered N$30 million lost in a botched investment deal with Avid Investment in 2005. It also recently bought land in a deal which it allegedly overspent by over N$30 million, effectively exposing how reckless welfare money belonging to the Namibian workers, is handled by its custodians. Are transactions of this nature a concern to you as Minister?
Social Security Commission has what is known as the Development Fund. This Fund has to address specific areas as identified in the Social Security Act. The alleged “mysteriously diverted money” is unknown to this Ministry. The N$11 million was properly authorized in terms of the law to address a specific issue, Children of the Liberation Struggle`s plight. This was done on a proper analysis and consideration of that particular situation.
This was a contextualized action. The Avid Investments question is before the Court of this country and it is a sub judice matter. On whether it concerns the Ministry, any money that appears to be not properly handled is a concern to every person of sound mind.
Can the public expect any investigation from you as Minister, seeing that you have over the years been one of the Cabinet ministers who have constantly called for good governance of public funds?
There is nothing to investigate as the N$11 million was legally and properly authorized for a cause recognized by the law. Avid Investment matter is before the Court after investigation by the State.
Corporate governance has been found wanting at several parastatals over the years. What in your view is the cause of this and is there any remedial measure that you can think of?
This Ministry has no mandate or information to pass a judgement on how parastatals are run nor legal authority to recommend remedial measures concerning issues of corporate governance, let alone a parastatal that falls under its jurisdiction.