The Namibian public service is a myriad of official duties assigned to individuals working for different departments across various government offices, ministries and agencies. One of those individuals is Martha Ndahafa Niikela, an administrative officer responsible for case management at the Office of the Labour Commissioner in Windhoek. Her role has a direct impact on the livelihood of many Namibians.
“Since I am a case management administrator, I mostly advise clients on procedures of how to refer their labour disputes. We schedule cases that are to be held for conciliation and arbitration, and also close files of cases that are resolved through conciliation and arbitration,” she explained.
Niikela’s day at the office is quite hectic as she is the first point of contact of many desperate Namibians looking for assistance to their work-related issues.
“The work that we do is to advise these clients - people who come in at the front office. When we come in in the morning, we find them queuing there already. These are desperate people who want their cases to be resolved and want us to assist them. So, we give them advice and help them refer their labour disputes on daily basis.”
The Office of the Labour Commissioner has an important mandate to maintain harmony in the Namibian labour sector, more especially to protect the rights of workers. Its functions include registering disputes from employees and employers; endeavour to prevent labour disputes from arising; resolve disputes through arbitration and train various stakeholders on dispute prevention and resolution.
The labour commissioner’s office, which is under the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation, is the custodian of the Labour Act.
Niikela, who is originally from the Okalongo constituency in the Omusati region and grew up partly in Windhoek, has always dreamed of serving in the public service.
Her dream was realised in 2006 when she joined the then Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare as a clerk. Before joining the public service, she worked for smaller companies in Windhoek and Oshakati.
“During my school days, I always wanted to work for the government. I wanted to work at a place where there is a lot of people, you know, like helping different types of people. I wanted to become a nurse but I did not do well in my science subjects, so I ended up at the ministry of labour.”
Despite loving her job, working with clients on a daily basis is no easy task.
“It is very challenging because we are working with different people from different cultures and different environments.
“These are desperate people - people who are angry and they want the services of this office. At this time of Covid-19, some people are dismissed and people have been retrenched.
“When they come to this office, they want their money and want it like today. You now have to explain to a desperate person who wants his or her money now, that the right procedure is they have to refer a formal case. And to do that, there are forms that they need to complete and that the forms are to be sent to the other party. From there they have to go to the police to certify those documents. It is a process and many people do not have patience for all these things. So, it is very hectic to work with people in desperate situations. But we have to do our level best and explain the procedures in terms of the Labour Act.”
On a lighter note, there are highlights in her career that she cherishes.
“Last year we had an up-skilling workshop here at our head office in Windhoek, where our regional colleagues were also invited to attend. What was very important to me mostly was the different speakers that were invited to address us. One of the speakers was Sam Shivute, who is now the commissioner of NamRA (Namibia Revenue Agency). He took us through and motivated us not to be limited as public servants; that we must be unlimited in the pursuit of information and be focused on everything that we do. He encouraged us on how to do our work as public servants and how to be professional.”
On the education front, Niikela matriculated at the Immanuel Shifidi Secondary School in central Katutura in 2000.
In 2011, she obtained a certificate of dispute resolution from the University of Namibia. This she followed up with a diploma in public management with the Southern Business School in 2014. In 2018, she graduated from the same institution with a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration.
The best part of working for the government is not only to be able to serve the general public, but it is one of the safest work environments, according to Niikela.
“You know the government is such a unique and safe environment to work in. What makes it unique is that since the establishment of our public service, we have no records that show civil servants have lost their jobs due to retrenchment or restructuring. There is also a lot to learn, because you cannot just know about the respective ministry you work for. You have to know what other ministries are doing to direct members of the public accordingly.”
In the meantime, Niikela is happy serving in the public service.
“I plan to develop myself by furthering my studies and professionally, I want to grow and continue serving the public to the best of my abilities. I am ready to serve in the public service until I retire.”