Population: 2,280,000
Capital: Windhoek

ILO Core Conventions Ratified:

29 (Forced Labour (1930))
87 (Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (1948))
98 (Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining (1949))
105 (Abolition of Forced Labour (1957))
111 (Discrimination in Employment and Occupation (1958))
138 (Minimum Age for Employment (1973))
182 (Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (1999))

Reported Violations – 2012

Dismissals: 485

Documented violations – actual number of cases may be higher


A diamond corporation reneged on a pay agreement then interfered in union affairs by claiming it could not ballot all its members over strike action. Striking mineworkers were sacked and a Chinese construction company tried to sack over 400 strikers protesting its violation of the wage agreement but the government stepped in.


Poverty and inequality remain high in Namibia. Over 50% of the population is unemployed despite the country's healthy economic performance. The upper 20% of the population lives on 78.7% of the country's total annual income, while the bottom 20% lives on a mere 1.4%. In February, the High Court dismissed a legal challenge by nine opposition parties claiming irregularities in the 2009 parliamentary election.

Trade union rights in law

Problems remain in the labour legislation despite recent improvements. The Constitution and the 2007 Labour Act guarantee freedom of association, but exclude prison staff. In addition, the Labour Commissioner may cancel the registration of a trade union if it fails to comply with its legal obligations, although the decision may be appealed in court.

Furthermore, the right to bargain collectively is recognised for registered trade unions that represent the majority of the employees in a bargaining unit. Finally, the right to strike is limited, as strike action can only be initiated in disputes that involve specific workers' interests, such as pay rises. Strikes are also subject to a long conciliation procedure. Disputes over workers' rights, including dismissals, must be referred to the Labour Court for arbitration, and the dispute solving mechanisms are long and cumbersome.

Link to additional detailed information regarding the legislation on the ITUC website here

In practice

Employer hostility: Employers have a history of being 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 has been particularly prevalent in the export processing zones (EPZ). The categories most vulnerable to trade union rights' violations are farm and domestic workers.

Workers concerned for their rights: Unions and workers have workers expressed strong concerns about Chinese construction companies who regularly ignored workers' rights and the country's labour laws. One example during the year was that of New Era Investments (see 2012 Trade union rights violations). Between 60% and 70% of construction tenders are awarded to Chinese companies.


Chinese construction firm violates wage agreement then sacks 418 strikers: Chinese building contractor New Era Investments failed to implement a wage agreement signed on 28 March with the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU) regarding the Labour Act, minimum wages and industrial action. Under the agreement, the building contractor pledged to adhere to the terms of the Act and pay its workers the minimum wage, subject to productivity levels. However, the company did not pay the minimum wage, leading to strike action in July.

New Era filed and was granted an urgent application with the Labour Court to have the work stoppage declared illegal and to order its employees back to work. The company then proceeded to dismiss all 418 employees who had taken part in the strike. Finally, the Labour Deputy Minister stepped in and instructed New Era Investment to stop the dismissals. Thanks to his intervention and further negotiations New Era Investment agreed in mid-August to pay its employees according to the minimum wage agreement.

Interference in trade union affairs in the diamond industry: The Namdeb Diamond corporation interfered in the affairs of the Mineworkers' Union of Namibia (MUN) when it told the union it could not ballot all 1,600 workers on strike action over a case involving 125 of them. The dispute concerned the withdrawal of housing allowance from the 125 when they were transferred to a new site, contrary to a 2009 agreement between Namdeb and the MUN. The strike went ahead on 16 August and lasted six days. On 20 August, the company locked out all striking employees and announced it would be launching a civil action against them, demanding compensation for losses incurred during the strike. The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, stepped in as the dispute became increasingly bitter and helped negotiate an agreement, signed on 15 September, and made into a court order. Under the agreement, the housing allowances were restored to the 125 transferred workers and there was a guarantee that there would be no regressions on the 2009 Work Conditions Agreement. A tripartite reconciliation commission was set up to deal with many other outstanding issues, including health and safety concerns.

Gold mine fires 67 workers after strike: A total of 67 employees contracted to the Navachab Gold Mine in Karibib were fired on 2 December, while 44 were issued a final warning following an indefinite strike over a salary dispute. More than 200 workers had decided to go on strike after salary negotiations stalled in November. The Mine Workers Union (MUN) was appealing the dismissals, which they believed to be unjustified.

Anti-union discrimination at Shoprite retail chain: The dispute between the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU) and Shoprite Checkers continued at the beginning of the year with the company claiming that the union would not enter into negotiations on behalf of its members. The retail chain showed blatant discrimination against union members after pay negotiations broke down. It unilaterally granted a 10% pay increase (below union demands) to NAFAU members effective from 1 November 2010, while the rise for non-members was made effective from June. NAFAU had taken the matter to the labour court and the case was still on-going, although the company claimed the union had already lost its case.

This 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.