The Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) has been dealt several blows resulting from the failed protracted strike at the Namibian Broadcasting Cooperation (NBC).
The strike caused several members to flee the union who they blamed for the failed strike. To add salt to injury, the Public Service Union of Namibia (PSUN), a rival union, offered soft loans as relief to the striking workers, some of whom received no salaries after the NBC applied the no work no pay principle.
This week, Napwu received yet another blow when the NBC informed it that it lost exclusive bargaining unit status with the broadcaster.
In a letter dated, 21 June 2021, NBC director general Stanley Similo informed Napwu general secretary Petrus Nevonga that the union no longer holds the 51% plus one majority to qualify as the exclusive bargaining unit.
The strike, which started on 22 April and ended on 26 May, sought better pay, backdated for two years, after the management gave themselves performance bonuses in December 2020. The workers also wanted better working conditions, equipment and wanted contract workers to receive permanent employment immediately.
None of the demands were met and workers abandoned the strike after a month expressing their dissatisfaction with Napwu and Nevonga. To date, NBC has not established the committee that would address employees’ gripes or appoint the contract workers as agreed upon. Instead, workers say they fear intimidation and disciplinary action for those perceived to be at the forefront of the strike.
An NBC worker, who preferred anonymity, yesterday told New Era, “the members lost trust in the union and its leadership. The union left the members hanging after the strike with no way forward.”
“Your union membership as of 1 June 2021 is 45.5%,” Similo said in the letter, while citing the NBC-Napwu recognition agreements.
The agreement stipulates, “if at any time during the life of this agreement the union fails to represent the majority of staff members in the bargaining unit,
the NBC may give the union notice in a prescribed form to acquire a majority within three months’ period, and if the union then fails to acquire that majority at the expiry of the said three months’ period, the NBC shall be entitled to withdraw the recognition of the union and in that event shall cease to be of force and effect.”
In response, Nevonga yesterday confidently said it is possible to rectify the situation.
“These are issues that form part of our usual operations. We will have it rectified but I may not mention how we will do it,” Nevonga said.
In a letter dated 11 June, NBC also rejected Napwu’s request for deducting, on behalf of staff, an increase of Nam-Mic staff loan from N$15 000 to N$50 000.
Similo wrote to Nevonga that over the years, NBC carried out a similar exercise which allowed payroll deductions for the repayment of staff loans to external lending institutions for personal loans for which the NBC somehow had to stand as a guarantor.
NBC stated in view of continuous risks of cash flow caused by the ongoing reductions in the subsidy allocation from the government, the broadcaster’s auditors raised this matter as a serious concern.
“It is exceedingly difficult to continue with business and commit to these types of deductions when the liquidity of the business is hanging in the balance. It is against this background that the business took a strategic decision and phased out this practice about a year or two back,” Similo noted.
He said the board and management reconciled that it is not in the best interest of NBC to increase deductions from payroll for the repayment of personal loans with no actual cash at hand to transfer to the relevant financial institutions.
Therefore, he said, NBC is unable to concede to Napwu’s request but rather advice that such repayments be made directly from the employees’ bank accounts.
However, NBC pledged to allow the current running deductions until full settlement. NBC has been accused by employees of victimisation and deducting salaries “unlawfully” from those who took part in the strike.
On 15 June, the PSUN filed an application in the High Court ordering NBC to immediately pay back any money deducted from workers as result of the “no work, no pay” rule.
Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) director Michael Akuupa regarded the situation at the NBC as unfortunate, adding it seemed not to be dealt with in the spirit of dialogue and law if the correspondence between the parties is anything to go by.
He said a protected strike is supposed to be dealt with in accordance with the Labour Act as amended in 2007.
“The strike was a protected activity and management should not victimise workers after the strike. Thus, it is important for the unions that represent the workers at NBC to take up the issue with the seriousness it deserves. If NBC had made commitments for its employees, it has to honour such accordingly. It is important for all the parties to return to dialogue for the problem to be resolved amicably and faster,” Akuupa advised.
In light of imbalanced trade union representation at NBC, Akuupa recommends the unions involved should explore the common cause, which is workers’ interests and protection of their rights.
“If the situation is not resolved fast and correctly, it will result in unending court cases and that will prolong the suffering of workers.”
Happier times… Napwu boss Petrus Nevonga and NBC DG Stanley Similo.