There is no doubt that trade unions play an important role in the country’s body politic in their efforts to be a voice for the growing numbers of unorganised and marginalised workers in Namibia. But are our local trade unions relevant given the fast-changing union politics?
Labour Resources and Research Institute director, Dr Michael Akuupa, says trade unions need to speak the language and visibly act with people who are affected by unemployment, and poor working conditions, especially young people in the informal economy.
Akuupa says trade unions must invest time and resources into organising more broad-based membership education and providing relevant demand-driven services and benefits to their membership. He says trade unions are relevant and shall continue to be so for a very long time to come.
“However, they need a serious ‘self-introspection and renewal’ project, as the power and visibility of the trade unions has mutated in such a way that a significant number of people, especially the youth, do not either know about them or do not understand their role and/or their relevance,” says Akuupa.
He said there is a need to close the widening gap between the membership aspirations and the leadership. The policy actions and responses of the leadership should be informed by the mandate provided by members and not the other way around, he adds.
Akuupa says for trade unions to be renewed and revitalised, they need to work as a united front, working with other civil society movements, such as women, youth, students and the elderly groups.
He says there is also a need for them to work with religious formations to strategically address policy questions around growing unemployment, bad trade and investment deals, growing poverty and inequality, systematic corruption, access to social protection, ailing health and education infrastructure and services for rural economic development, among many others.
He indicates that over the last decade or so, the pulse of trade unions has slowed down extensively. This is not just a Namibian problem though, he says, but a global problem due to the changing nature of work, characterised by growing formal unemployment, especially among the youth, women and rural folks.
In addition, Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (Manwu) secretary general Justina Jonas-Emvula maintains that trade unions are relevant and will continue to be relevant as long as workers still exist. She says trade unions need to keep track of changes as they come and prepare themselves and their members to encounters those changes such as the fourth industrial revolution. Jonas-Emvula says they need to engage and strategise on how to counter this revolution.
She says a trade union is a representative of workers and only workers’ unity can keep its relevance at their workplace. She explains that principled trade unions, especially those under NUNW, have democratic structures where aggrieved members lodge their concerns. Therefore, in most cases, one hears little of these complaints because the internal structures are working well, she says.
“Namibian workers should refrain from this myth that trade unions are just there to eat people’s money, this myth continues to allow workers to be poor. Unite yourself at the workplace and apply the provisions of the Labour Act and you will see how relevant trade unions are in your working life,” Jonas-Emvula.
She says it is important to consider, as the country celebrates the 30th independence anniversary, the working class of this country, especially the young people who need education about trade union ideology.
“The reason why most workers in this country are earning less in because they have no negotiation platforms with their employers to increase their wages and have no benefits like medical aid, transport or housing allowance. At every workplace, you can only achieve these if you have a platform to negotiate with your employer,” she says.
Teachers Union of Namibia (TUN) secretary-general Mahongora Kavihuha agrees that trade unions are more relevant than ever in the sense that the labour market is transforming so rapidly that they need someone who can organise the workers and speak on their behalf.
Kavihuha says the gap between the rich and the poor is increasing, governments have become capitalist and neo-liberal and it is for this specific reason they (government) needs someone to always remind them about their social responsibility and not concentrating on profit.
He says what makes trade unions irrelevant are the laws that are being passed that are completely not pro-trade unionism.
“That is what we are trying to fight even in Namibia, in trying to ensure there is an amendment of the Labour Act that is more pro-trade unions.
And through that mechanism, trade unions will become relevant and we will claim our position that seems to be lost although for us who are players, it is not the case,” remarks Kavihuha. ◆
2020-03-20 15:53:13 | 13 days ago