…1347 labor related cases reported in 2017
As Namibia’s leaders grapple with a poor economy, they must also contend with a looming threat to social stability—the country’s seemingly disgruntled workforce.
Labour protests have swelled in recent years both in frequency and scale, reversing a recent decline in social unrest and underscoring tensions over wages and benefits among Namibia’s workers.
Official figures indicate that the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation received a total of 1347 labour related cases for the 2017/2018 financial year, of which 1011 cases were resolved.
Most of these disputes stemmed from disputes over delayed remuneration, deductions from salaries, ordinary working hours, overtime and annual leave.
It did not provide comparable figures from 2016.
During the same period, the labour ministry also referred 167 cases to the Office of the Labour Commissioner (OLC) where they were settled either through conciliation or arbitration. Meanwhile, 71 cases were carried over to the current quarter due to unspecified reasons.
Responding to questions last week, public relations officer in the ministry of labour, Maria Hendimbi said most labour related complaints are received from the security and construction sectors.
She added that the most common types of formal labour disputes involve unfair dismissals of employees by their employers and in this case they are resolved by either conciliation or arbitration.
Arbitration is a legal term which refers to a process in which two or more parties use an arbitrator to resolve a dispute.
The retail and wholesale sector tops the list of disputes and dismissals, she noted.
The ongoing Shoprite Namibia saga is one of the reference points in the retail industry, where employees were facing disciplinary action owing to a strike and some were dismissed.
Furthermore, the labour ministry noted with concern that the solving of complaints gets complicated and prolonged especially if one of the parties happens not to show up. This is a major challenge they face on the ongoing labour disputes or cases.
The high number labour cases dovetailed with a poor-performing economy unmasks the precarious state of the country’s economy.
Recent observations have shown how the halting of the construction of government infrastructure and tightening the-once-exploited public procurement system sent the construction sector to the doldrums.
Treasury however maintains that implementing austerity measures saved the economy from crumbling.
State-backed social housing and infrastructure projects have cushioned the impact so far, but some economists have warned that the labour-intensive construction industry will continue suffering significant job losses, should the teetering economy continue on the current trajectory.
Corruption, bureaucracy and an inadequately educated workforce was cited as one of the biggest obstacles in creating a competitive business environment in Namibia, as the country dropped six places in the World Economic Forum’s (WEF’s) Competitiveness Index.
The index, released last week, said Namibia needs to provide more investment incentives.
The 2017-2018 World Forum’s Global Competitiveness report has indicated that Namibia has fallen by six places on the global Competitiveness rankings for 2017-18 down to 90th from 84th in 2016-17. Namibia’s score was also down 3.99 from 4.02 last year.
Namibia’s private sector is not immune to these labour strikes. In fact, it has recently been hit hard by ongoing labour disputes and walkouts. For example, investor confidence in Namibia has fallen as a result of the many ongoing strikes across the country.
The country’s construction industry—a key economic driver in Namibia—was badly hurt when government could not afford to pay over N$1.8 billion owed to hordes of construction firms a few months back.
With Namibia going through a recession, Director of Labour Research Institute Dr Michael Akuupa said LaRRI is aware of the various complaints from employees about their circumstances.
Akuupa urged all affected workers to approach necessary representatives such as trade unions and the office of Labour Commission in order to receive help.
“Our institute does research in order to advise labour sector on matters that pertain various industries”, said Akuupa. In line with outstanding dues or constraints in allowance to employees, Akuupa stressed that, “the labour law is clear and there is no need to amend it either. One can only emphasize on adherence and compliance to the law”.
The disputes across the country, especially in the public sector, is a cause for concern given their operational scale.
In an event that parties involved in a labour dispute or case fail to reach consensus, the case is referred to the OLC to be resolved through conciliation or arbitration which again requires time to enable finalise the case.
The rising number of labour disputes in Namibia is a wake-up call for government to consider the labour markets with a renewed interest to revise labour laws governing the role and powers accorded to employers, revise minimum wages, wage increases and dispute resolution policies in line with the latest economic developments in the country and international standards to ensure fairness and equity.