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Workplace wellness programmes should be compulsory

2023-01-25  Eveline de Klerk

Workplace wellness programmes should be compulsory

WALVIS BAY – Labour consultant and community activist August Bikeur says it is time unionists and the labour ministry takes a critical look at workplace conditions and make employee wellness programmes compulsory to avoid another tragedy.

He was speaking in connection with the suicide of Fabiolla Zondjembo, who ended her life on Thursday last week after allegedly being fired from Shoprite Walvis Bay a day earlier. 

Zondjembo, who was described as a humble person, worked for two years at the shop until her untimely death. 

In a note widely shared on social media, she described horrible working conditions and bullying she allegedly endured from a senior manager over a broken nametag she could not wear.

Seemingly breaking under pressure, the young woman walked from Tutaleni to Independence beach, where she walked into the ocean. Her body was later found floating in the water.

According to Bikeur, the death of Zondjembo is a sad reality of emotional abuse and the constant pressure many workers, especially in the retail industry, face.

He told New Era yesterday many Namibians are subjected to low-end jobs that put them under pressure simply because they have to put bread on the table.

“Youth unemployment at this stage is standing at an alarming rate and people simply do not have the luxury to leave their jobs. They endure years of verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of their employers. It is time labour officials randomly visit workplaces and consult with employees,” he said. Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (Nafau) yesterday confirmed that Zondjembo was a member of the union but they were neither aware nor notified by the company or by Zondjembo herself about a disciplinary hearing that eventually ended her employment.

“Usually, employees would receive a letter three days before the hearing. They then bring the letter to us for preparation and representation,” Nafau secretary general Jacob Penda said.

According to him, they learned about Zondjembo’s death through the media, and they are now consulting with the company for paperwork to make sense of the incident. He added the protection of workers is important, and that Zondjembo’s death highlights the need for safe spaces, where workers can air their grievances without fear of losing their jobs.

“Employers must also look at wellness programmes for workers. There need to be sessions where they can express themselves without being crucified. It is also important that employees join unions to fight on their behalf. However, we will meet with our members and address this tragedy to avoid another,” Penda said.

Also speaking to New Era yesterday, Isabella Zendjembo said her sister’s death should not be in vain.

“We are in pain. Something needs to change. In the last conversation I had with her, she spoke about standing up for her colleagues so that they could have better working conditions. I did not know she was going to end her life,” the sister said.

She added it saddens her that no action has been taken against the said employee. 

According to her, Shoprite did not reach out to them after her sister’s passing.

Shoprite chose not to respond to questions sent to them but said they want to protect their employee’s privacy.

“Losing one of our own always touches us, and it is with great sadness that we extend our heartfelt sympathy to the family and co-workers of the employee,” they said. -

2023-01-25  Eveline de Klerk

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