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Union, TransNamib set for showdown

2021-09-27  Maihapa Ndjavera

Union, TransNamib set for showdown
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Employees of the national rail service operator TransNamib last week embarked on a peaceful nationwide demonstration to show their frustration with contentious labour matters.

These include longstanding wage disputes and the recently reported retrenchment of 340 staff from the parastatal. At a media briefing on Friday, the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (Natau) confirmed that the demonstrations will continue until amicable solutions have been found on the matters in dispute. 

“This is not an instigation to an unlawful strike. Peaceful demonstrations are our constitutional right, and it will take place daily at lunch time,” stated Narina Pollmann, general secretary at Natau. 

At the same occasion, Natau president William Claasen stated that numerous consultations with management on the state of affairs at the company proved futile. This included an attempt to engage the board via the chairperson.

On wage dispute conciliation, he said the union submitted its demands for negotiations in November 2019, well in advance for the company to seek a mandate and do costing based on the expected financial implications. 

“The parties failed to resolve the matter through negotiations, and it was then referred to the office of the Labour Commissioner in November 2020. Numerous attempts from the union to resolve the matter proved fruitless, and the parties reconvened the conciliation on the 20th of September 2021,” he explained. 

Claasen stated that during the meeting, TransNamib’s board insisted on its zero mandates, and that it had no financial capability for wage increments.

Moreover, the Natau president complained that the union only learned about the retrenchment of the 340 employees through the media, calling this a total disregard for working relations. The union is also yet to meet with management for a way forward on this matter.

“We know that the ultimate goal is to break up TransNamib into parts, and create private entities. Natau has been fighting these premeditated agendas for the past decades, initiated by the TransNamib cabal like Johny Smith, which is threatening the job security of TransNamib employees, families and their livelihoods”, Claasen charged.

In addition, he advised the TransNamib board to employ management and executives with the right skills set and experience in the rail sector, and to suspend any management members of the company implicated in maladministration in an ongoing investigation for an unhindered outcome.

During a live social media discussion on Friday, TransNamib CEO Smith said the national rail operator is not retrenching staff, but has embarked on a voluntary process to match the property portfolio business versus the number of staff. 

“Part of the Integrated Strategic Business Plan makes provision in terms of a voluntary option to right-size the company. We are still at the initial stage, and cannot provide the number of people as we have to discuss with individuals and unions, and it is an internal matter. It was not good to leak such a document, which was also very premature,” Smith clarified in an interview with The Namibian. 

During the same social media discussion, public enterprises minister Leon Jooste said it takes time to turn around a huge amount of negative momentum into positivity at state-owned enterprises (SOEs). 

“The challenge that TransNamib has is to turn around the mindset within the organisation. Changing management within this institution is incredibly complicated because over years, we have created an ‘SOE mindset’, that is dependency on the shareholder, being the government,” noted Jooste.  He further cautioned that that period is now over, and SOEs have to perform and be accountable. 

“The failure of SOEs lies in our ability to appoint the right people. People will not want to risk their professions in SOEs boards due to external factors, so we need to create a viable environment to attract the right people,” said the line minister during the discussion on whether SOEs can be revived.

2021-09-27  Maihapa Ndjavera

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