As the strike of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) workers completes its third week, a union representing the interest of the employees has accused the broadcaster and government of negotiating in bad faith and asked the court to intervene. The Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) has claimed in court papers the parties hid crucial information during wage negotiations, saying the broadcaster and its shareholder knew that no wage increase would be granted for the 2021/22 financial year.
An urgent application filed after NBC workers handed a petition over an 8% salary increase, and other poor working conditions to Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila shows that at beginning of 2021, the government, in a funding request to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) undertook to contain the wage bill of a selected state-owned enterprise (SOE) by implementing a wage freeze for the 2021/22 financial year.
The application is to declare that the conduct of the NBC and the government during the wage negotiations in 2020 and 2021 is unlawful, as it undermines orderly collective bargaining, and is in violation of the provisions of Section 34 of the Labour Act.
After receiving the petition, the PM promised to engage all relevant authorities to discuss the strike issue. Workers, however, threatened to march to State House if their demands are not met by Monday.
Workers petitioned that as the Namibian government has often expressed its solidarity with people plagued by oppressive regimes around the world, such as the Palestinians, Saharawi and many others, it remains imperative to remember that charity begins at home. “The responsibility to create balance and a healthy working environment at the NBC and allow Namibians to engage in sound decision-making once again by means of providing essential information lies squarely with the NBC board, top management and the government, as the shareholders of the NBC,” remarked seasoned and currently the longest-serving NBC TV news anchor, Franlin Thomas, who read the petition. In court documents, Napwu secretary general Petrus Nevonga said the government knew and the board of the NBC and government must have known, through legally mandated consultations, that there will be significant cuts to the annual subsidy granted to the NBC, thus making any salary increase illusory. “These facts were not disclosed to Napwu when it commenced wage negotiations with the NBC in December 2020. What ensued were sham negotiations that extended until 27 January 2021, when the NBC reneged on a principled understanding regarding wage and benefit increases for the employees in the bargaining unit,” Nevonga argued. Therefore, he said, in terms of the collective agreement, the NBC has certain obligations towards Napwu and its members to provide feedback to the union on matters of mutual interest regarding the workplace of its members, and its economic climate. He charged none of the discussions between NBC and its shareholder in terms of the public Enterprises Governance Act was shared with Napwu. “It is safe to assume that the board was informed of the intended wage freeze and significant cuts to the subsidy of the NBC by the minister,” said Nevonga. He argues the NBC breached the collective agreement and undermined orderly collective bargaining, adding the broadcaster and government engaged the union knowing that there was no possibility of reaching an agreement due to the contractual commitments the government had entered with IMF. “The conduct of the government and the NBC towards Napwu and the workers is dishonest. It shows bad faith towards the legitimate expectations of the workers and undermined orderly collective bargaining and industrial peace,” Nevonga contended. Napwu also accused NBC of non-compliance to strike rules, especially on the use of scab labour during a strike. This, he said, undermines the effectiveness of the strike.