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2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Namibia

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 20 November 2008
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2008 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Namibia, 20 November 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c52ca7ac.html [accessed 23 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 2,000,000
Capital: Windhoek
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 29 – 87 – 98 – 105 – 111 – 138 – 182

Many trade unionists lost their jobs for being too militant. A new Labour Code was promulgated at the end of the year.

Trade union rights in law

Workers are free to form and join trade unions, and the law provides for collective bargaining. The right to strike is recognised, including in the EPZs, although workers in essential services are excluded.

Limitations: Strike action can only be used in disputes involving specific workers' interests such as pay rises, and there must be a 48 hour notice period. Disputes over workers' rights, including dismissals, must be referred to the labour court for arbitration. Current arbitration and dispute solving mechanisms are cumbersome, leading to a long backlog of cases.

New labour law: The new Labour Code was promulgated on 31 December 2007. According to the Ministry of Labour, it would come into force in May 2008. Prison guards and police are not allowed to form or join trade unions.

Trade union rights in practice and Violations in 2007

Background: Although the country enjoys genuine political stability and is one of the richest in the continent, it faces several social problems, including one of the highest income disparity rates in the world, with extremely poor rural regions, and an HIV/AIDS epidemic that is affecting one in four Namibians.

Restrictions on union organising:

Employer hostility: Employers are generally very hostile towards the unions, refusing to recognise them or let them carry out their activities in workplaces, or to engage in collective bargaining with them. This tendency is particularly prevalent in the export processing zones (see below). The categories most vulnerable to trade union rights' violations are farm and domestic workers. Although they make up a sizeable portion of the Namibian labour force and are covered by the Labour Code, employers still intimidate them when they try to organise trade unions.

In the services sector, certain employers make no bones about their anti-union approach. In November, for example, 63 employees of SCS, a cleaning firm, held a sit-in in front of the Uman campus in Windhoek, where they worked. They complained about the threats and insults they had received from their employer and his refusal to recognise the union they had just set up and wanted to register. Similarly, the Spar supermarket chain is regularly accused by the unions of lack of respect for trade union rights. Following the disciplinary measures adopted against striking workers in a Spar supermarket in 2006, their employer was accused by the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) of using its surveillance cameras to monitor the activities of the staff delegates.

Discrimination against independent unions: Trade unions not affiliated with the ruling SWAPO (South West Africa People's Organisation) party have continued to be marginalised. Only representatives of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW), affiliated with the ruling party, were serving as members of the Board of Directors of the Social Security Commission and the Government Institution Pension Fund. The Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA) was the main butt of that discrimination, together with the Namibian Nurses' Union (NANU) which, despite being the most representative organisation in the health sector, has still not been recognised by the authorities as the union they should negotiate with. The Government repeated tried to intimidate the nurses belonging to that union and its General Secretary, Abner Shopati, received death threats.

Trade unionist dismissed by the Malaysian textile company Ramatex: At the end of January, Ramatex did not renew the contract of Thomas Rogelio, an employee of the Malaysian textile company and, above all, an activist belonging to the Namibian Food and Allied Workers' Union (NAFAU). As such, he had represented the workers of Ramatex in the interminable wage negotiations that had finally had a successful outcome in October 2006, after the union had decided to strike.

Employment contracts of several migrant workers with demands not renewed: In November, the management of Flamingo, a subsidiary of Ramatex, warned 19 Filipino workers that their contracts would not be renewed and that they would be repatriated at the end of 2007. One month earlier, several of those migrant workers had asked the Ministry of Labour to intervene regarding grievances that their employer had refused to hear. As with Thomas Rogelio, this was the Malaysian group's way of punishing and dismissing workers with too many demands.

Divide and rule, Ramatex's strategy: Installed in Namibia since 2002, the Malaysian group Ramatex has taken full advantage of its location in an EPZ, whilst making a name for itself for its total lack of concern for its workforce and hostility towards the unions. According to the Namibian Labour Resource and Research Institute, Ramatex's strategy has consisted of dividing its employees based on their nationalities and giving them different levels of wages and benefits. The lack of contact between the national groups has made any general mobilisation very hard to organise. The Namibian workers have not supported their Asian colleagues and vice versa. Any protest action by the migrant workers has generally resulted in their expulsion. In a case concerning 19 Filipinos the court accepted their plea to be allowed to stay in Namibia long enough for their complaint concerning unpaid legal leave days to be heard. Throughout the year there were increasing rumours of another departure, however: that of Ramatex itself, which was apparently looking for an even more favourable location.

A union leader and many union members are the targets of a restructuring exercise in the food-processing sector: In January, Abel Kazondunge, President of the Namibian Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU) and several members of the union were sacked during the restructuring of a subsidiary of the Ohlthaver & List group, which has most of its interests in the food sector. According to the union, which had repeatedly criticised the lack of transparency of the restructuring process and the failure to consult the union reps, there was no doubt that its members had been targeted amongst these redundancies.

Dismissal of a union leader in the mining industry: At the end of July, in the Rosh Pinah zinc mine, Petrus Amakali, a lab assistant and Chair of the local branch of the Mineworkers' Union of Namibia (MUN), was sacked for insubordination and violent behaviour. According to the trade unionist, who fiercely rejects these accusations, and also the national MUN leaders and the 200 miners who went on strike, the management was attempting, through this dismissal, to silence the union and intimidate the workers. On 8 August the strike ended after an agreement was reached between the MUN and the management of this subsidiary of the South African group Exxaro on the reinstatement of the union leader.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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