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Home / May Day woema wanes… unionists argue workers’ plight remains vital

May Day woema wanes… unionists argue workers’ plight remains vital

2022-04-29  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

May Day woema wanes… unionists argue workers’ plight remains vital

Despite the importance attached to Workers’ Day celebrations globally by organised trade unions, commentators are of the view that the day has lost its significance locally. 

Some observers have questioned the day’s relevance, believing that it is now a ghost of its former self as unions have lost their pre-independence lustre, while workers have been at the receiving end of job losses, stagnant salaries and job scarcity. 

May Day, also known as Labour Day or May Day, falls on 1 May and is a public holiday in over 80 countries. 

It is meant to celebrate the contributions of workers, promote their rights and commemorate the labour movement.

In 2020, over 12 000 workers were retrenched as businesses struggled to sustain jobs due to Namibia’s slumping economy, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. 

More than 380 Namibian employers retrenched 3 244 employees from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2021. 

According to the labour ministry, the reasons for the retrenchments were mainly due to economic factors, the transfer of businesses as well as re-organisational or operational reasons during the four quarters. 

Former information deputy minister Engel Nawatiseb this week said growing up at a copper mining town in Oshikoto, May Day was a popular celebration among workers.

“Growing up in Tsumeb, May Day was a hive of activities. I am very disappointed that workers or the leadership cannot organise workers to stage those dynamic rallies that bring meaning to May Day,” he said, before adding that the day has died a natural death, and workers and union leaders are to be blamed.

Also, the recent wave of political formations at workplaces addressing labour-related concerns, which have been proclaimed illegal by the government, has also been blamed on the ineffectiveness of labour unions.

Despite not having any major celebration of Workers’ Day organised this year, it is still relevant on the social landscape of Namibia, union leaders have said.

“This day is more relevant like never before. We are celebrating this day with many challenges. We are celebrating this day with the poor-performing economy, the stagnation of salaries, and misbehaving of government when it comes to pensions,” said Trade Union Congress of Namibia secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha. 

He observed that trade unions are there to ensure the rights of workers, and it is the duty of every worker to guard against the prophets of doom who want unions to die so that they can exploit workers. 

 Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union general secretary Justina Jonas is of the belief that the day is still vital, but unions must innovate to make it appealing to the working class and society in general.

“There is a lot workers can share by their experiences in celebrating the day, rather than giving political speeches. One may want to look into more interactive approaches for the day. There have been limitations to celebrate May Day since 2020 due to Covid-19. New ways of celebrating May Day must be developed to meet the technological environment we are operating in today,” she noted.

Jonas said the pandemic brought many challenges which workers are still experiencing today, with a good example being in the construction sector, where the country’s workers have been sent home because government has not paid the contractors.

“We have the tourism industry not having fully recovered, and these are some examples where workers are still feeling the pressure. I think less is being done to arrest the situation. The lack of dialogue between social partners is putting pressure on the operations of the trade unions to represent their members fairly,” she continued. 

But overall, “not trying to run away from our responsibilities, trade unions should be innovative to make the day relevant each year.

I think we have a lot to do to continue with the tradition to celebrate the day differently,” she said. 

The country’s largest union federation, the National Union of Namibian Workers’ vice president Phillip Munenguni said the day is still relevant in the sense that unions must still continue addressing the inequalities workers face, and to gain other social benefits.

Former NUNW secretary general Evilastus Kaaronda said trade unions in a society like that of Namibia where poverty is the order of the day, remain relevant and indispensable.

“In a society like ours, a society of inequality, a society that is not as strong, a society that is not financially empowered, trade unions are a must. Without trade unions, there would be no peace,” he said.

What the workers say

Communications worker Benitha Nakaambo said 1 May is an interesting day for her.

The day gives her an opportunity to spend time with her family, which is an opportunity rarely found, especially during weekdays. 

“We love to drive out for the fun of it and create lots of memories, which is one of my goals as a mom,” she added.

Senior human resources practitioner Ebson Hangero said to him, the day highlights the contribution of workers to society and is a reminder that the exploitation of workers is no more.

 On that day, workers have to stand up and speak out to gain better working conditions, better pay and better lives.

“Much should be done more than recognition. Employees are being abused physically and emotionally throughout the world. It is, therefore, fundamental that human rights should not only be for the elite, but for humanity’s sake,” said Maritz Maritz, a construction worker. 




2022-04-29  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

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