• August 13th, 2020

From security guard to union SG, Justina tells New Era her story

New Era journalist, Kuzeeko Tjitemisa this week met with Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU), Secretary General Justina Jonas-Emvula to discuss her future and matters related to Namibian trade unions. 
Here is what she has to say: 

KT: Tell us who is Justina Jonas-Emvula.
JE: I am a young woman born on October, 10, 1978. I was raised at the village called Ohadiwa, in the Ongenga Constituency.  
I was raised as a cattle and goat herder instead of a kitchen girl. My upbringing made me who I am today. I remain thankful to my grandparents who made me the woman I become today.
Even though life was tough growing up as a girl in the village, I am proud of what I have become.

KT: How did you become interested or involved in trade unions?
JE: At first, my dream was to become a lawyer and I still do, but after completing school I was left with no other option but do look for work since there were no study opportunities at the time. There was also a need for me to work so that I can take care of my mother and siblings.
I went to look for work, and the first job that I got was that of a security guard, but due to bad treatment in the industry at that time I ended up in the construction industry doing temporary clerical work.
It was during that time that I was recruited as a workers representative. During the same year, I was send abroad to represent the union at one Continental meeting. 
Unfortunately, as it was a temporary job I had to leave. That’s when I decided to move to Windhoek for greener pastures.
In 2003, I moved to Windhoek, by now I knew what I wanted. My first knock was at the MANWU office since I was already their member. I went to their office in search of a job, but I was told that there was no vacancy, however I volunteered to work for free before being permanently employed in May 2003. 
To cut my story short, my trade union career started picking up, and I must say that it surprise me how far I have gone to date.
Trade unions work is the best university anyone ever wish to attend. Even though not easy for woman, it’s something worth going through.

KT: How relevant are trade unions in 2018?
JE: Trade unions are relevant in the past, present and future. The only thing we need to do is to change our old tradition, how we do things as trade unions and come up with new traditions to encounter capital and private strategies that has been dividing the working class. 
Trade unions are making a difference in the lives of workers locally and around the world. The unfortunate part is that those that are benefiting from the hard work of unions do not recognise it.

KT: What challenges lay ahead for union movements?
JE: One of the challenges we have are the capitalists who are busy destroying the work of trade unions. It’s them who are making sure that labour laws, policies and regulations are soften for their own benefits. 
They (capitalists) are further pushing for subcontracting, PPP, outsourcing, casualisations and many others and also controlling our governments especially in Africa for their own benefits.
Africa is too weak to defend its working class. We have witnessed many times how government tries to develop policies which are anti-union. 
However, these are not agenda of government but that of the capitalists.
Those are some of our challenges, and we need to ensure that we pay serious attention to these challenges and address them through strategic plans to protect our workers as trade unionists.  We need to refocus and do business different to what we are doing now. 
We must not be apologetic to what we do as our duties is to keep government and its agencies on its toes. We must demand what fits the working class, we must demand the right things to be done at the right time. 

KT: Women remain almost invisible in senior positions in Namibian trade unions, why do you think this is happening?
JE: No… I think that’s a wrong perception, at MANWU were I am employed now, the top leadership as elected at congress has a 50/50 representation of men and women.
At MANWU, we took the decision some years back to empower women to lead and today we are proud to say that we have produced good women leaders in the system.
Beyond MANWU, if I look at other sister unions within NUNW, there is a big improvement. 
We have women leading the NAPWU, NDAWU and Asnath Zamuee at NAFINU. We also have a Deputy Secretary General at NANTU. 
This alone does not include the Constitutional structures of unions where many women are serving in different positions. 
My personal motto is always, never allow someone to make you visible, so women in MANWU are motivated to come and show the best they can without waiting to be pushed.
As an individual woman, you have a responsibility to ensure that women rise above the rest. It is our duty to make ourselves visible and climb the ladder. 
The old talks of saying women have a lot of responsibilities at home and so forth, to me these are excuses coming from us women, because we doubt our capabilities.
KT: There is a public perception that trade unions are only interested in political gains and are becoming less interested in representing workers. What is your take on this?
JE: My honest opinion has always been as follows; trade unions to me are are a tool or an instrument of politics. 
That’s why many people fear trade unionists because the way we are trained is to be confident to defend what you believe in. Politic is part of our jobs, even though sometimes we deny it. In my personal experiences, I must say that politics have helped my trade union works and have benefited thousands of workers within the sector I operate.
Of course there maybe those who use it for personal gains, but believe me on this, I doubt it. Personally I call that selfish because when you are in a position to help the voiceless and you do otherwise, then you are selfish and you do not deserve to be there. 
We must remember that the system we are operating is the system which was designed to feed another system. 
However the current generation will not understand why some of these system were created. 
I still believe that if you are an elected leader, you have a right to be treated equally as another person who is out there working to sustain his/her family. 
Being a leader does not make you less of an employee. Political gain or not, we must also note that once you are elected as a leader, there are benefits that comes with it.
Of course, there may be those who misuse these benefits, but it is important to note that these cases can be treated individually than generalising and including the innocent.

KT: How much clout or power do you think trade unions have over large corporate entities who have the resources to employ the best negotiators and legal representatives?
JE: Remember trade unions negotiate with the mandate from the workers. 
The workers are the ones doing the work in these companies. Any failure of negotiation processes can make company doors closed through legal strikes.
Many companies try to avoid these negotiation failures and try their best to struck deals with trade unions and workers involved. 
Our power lies in the unity of workers during negotiations. Negotiation processes are not easy, one have to be well equipped with the economic status, compare what companies are doing, do research on the company production and operation so that you are comfortable to negotiate. 
That’s why workers in the companies especially shop stewards are assets of trade unions. They can provide much information during the negotiations and guide the trade union in the process. I always boast that trade unions have more power than anybody in this universe. You can have your millions, if the workers decide to deal with you, they will deal with you.

KT: With the mechanisation of many industries, do you think trade unions will be relevant in a future where most labour-related activities are expected to be done by machines?
JE: I serve at the BWI (Building Woodworkers International) World Council and World Board and must say that the International labour movement is getting prepared to start educating the trade unions on new ways to encounter these new mechanisms driven by capitalists. 
At the continent level, we may see that these are far from coming, but we need to start talking about it. 
Remember, machines need to be operated, needs to be manufactured, transported, and maintained.
Even though it may lead to fewer jobs created, we are hopefull that our people needs to start preparing to be multi-skilled in order to be able to do one more job in order to accommodate the changes.

These are discussions that need to be started now so that workers are prepared.

KT: The Second Land Conference is about two weeks away, have your union been consulted for input? 
JE: We have been consulted via our Federation – NUNW, already last year. We submitted our position paper through consultation with our members. Apart from that, we also took part in the Civil Societies Organisation engagement on Land and I think our position is clear. 
The land conference should be a people conference. We support the call for the referendum, to amend Article 16.
We want the land to be owned by the state so that the fair distribution of land is successfully done. 
We have other proposals, where we believe that, the issue of urban land needs to be reconsidered. We are concerned about the farm workers dumbed on the roadside and we are saying this should end.

KT: The National Union of Namibian Workers’ (NUNW) congress is set for next year, already there are talks in the corridors that you are the favourite. What do you say about this talks and are you ready?
JE: Vakuetu, who wants to put me in that hot seat? No one approached me to discuss this matter; therefore I seriously have nothing to say.

Kuzeeko Tjitemisa
2018-09-21 08:16:09 | 1 years ago

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