Government has warned non-exclusive bargaining agents against flooding workplaces, saying that doing so is illegal and could result in legal consequences if one side chose to do so.
In recent months, political formations have flooded the country’s workplaces, addressing labour-related issues, which according to the labour ministry, should be dealt with by exclusive bargaining agents.
Leaders of the Namibia Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) recently stormed the Cheetah Cement Factory outside Otjiwarongo in the Otjozondjupa region and discovered eight Chinese nationals working there without work permits.
NEFF leader Epafras Mukwiilongo and his deputy, Kalimbo Iipumbu, headed the march and were accompanied by NEFF members Gregory Cloete, Michael Amushelelo and Affirmative Repositioning activist Dimbulukeni Nauyoma.
The eight Chinese nationals have since been deported.
Since last year, the AR movement rocked up at various, especially Chinese-owned businesses, to get the owners to address labour complaints.
As a result, Choppies Supermarket in October terminated an agreement for the provision of personnel services with a company owned by Tsumeb constituency councillor Gottlieb Ndjendjela.
Employees Placement Services Namibia CC (EPSN), Ndjendjela’s company, was accused of ripping off workers as it claims a certain percentage from the salaries before it pays the employees.
“We have noted with concern the flooding of non-exclusive bargaining agents at different workplaces. The ministry being the custodian of labour laws advocates for social dialogue amongst the tripartite in solving labour matters amicably and ensuring a post-safe working environment for the employees,” said the ministry of labour acting deputy executive director Lydia Indombo.
She said the law is very clear that an employer must not recognise a trade union as an exclusive bargaining agent in terms of the Labour Act unless such is registered with the labour commissioner and represent the majority of the employees in the bargaining unit.
Owing to what the law says, she said the ministry is not mandated and thus cannot dictate to employers whether to deny or allow access to their premises to non-exclusive bargaining agents or let alone engage them if their primary purpose of going to the workplace is to negotiate a collective agreement on any matter affecting the employees.
“Experience has proven the importance of exercising caution in dealing with labour matters by all means. Contrary to that defeats the purpose of effectively mitigating labour disputes and has the potential to undermine the legally established avenues for systematic prevention and resolution of labour disputes and the promotion of harmonious labour relations in the country,” she said.
She added that it should be the responsibility of every caring citizen, including those who claim to have the workers’ interest at heart, to ensure that they comply with the provisions of the law.
“The harmonious labour relations that the country strives to have can only be attained and maintained by lawful parties, acting in accordance with the law through the handling of labour matters in an orderly manner,” she said.
The press statement from the ministry attempts to address the current situation as it unfolds by highlighting in legal terms that the custodians of workers are recognised trade unions. At the same time, the ministry cautions entities that are not recognised by law to tread carefully when they enter the space specifically reserved for those with bargaining powers.
Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) director Michael Akuupa said the statement by the government also illuminates the importance of rights that are reserved especially when read with trespassing.
In other words, he said, there are likely to be consequences when the laws are not followed to the letter.
“These activities are taking place as there seems to be some sort of vacuum in terms of workers representation, especially at workplaces that do not have organised structures to represent workers,” he said.
As a result, Akuupa said, people are likely to take it upon themselves to act in ways they see best.
“One may also not rule out political grandstanding in this instance as the nation is headed towards the election in the not-so-distant future,” he said.
However, he said it is important that trade unions intensify their acts and strategies of organising as the situation is also getting out of hand.
“They should also enhance their services and benefits extended to their members,” he stressed.
According to Akuupa, the situation can also be associated with increased flexibility in the labour market, especially in retail and extractive sectors where permanency is not guaranteed, thus creating despondence in joining trade unions.
He added it is important to join trade unions.
Equally, he said, the ministry should be empowered, especially the inspectorate division, that is tasked with monitoring the workspace.
“This is beyond having more inspectors,” he said.
“This should include enhancement of social dialogue and tripartite effectiveness. The system in place that leads to prosecution should be fully functional,” said the labour expert.