“I am also of the opinion that some of the trade unions find it easier to call unnecessary strikes to the detriment of both their own members and their employers rather than to engage in the painstaking process of resolving their disputes through good faith collective bargaining process,” said Immanuel Ngatjizeko, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, speaking at the 8th congress of Natau recently.
It is good and important that minister Ngatjizeko made a public comment on the state of the current labour situation and on what he sees as the negative behaviour of trade unions during disputes. This statement is long overdue!
The current labour situation in Namibia is fuelled by the labour unrest in South Africa and our trade unions believe that they can jump onto the bandwagon and get away with this.
I observe that the union make completely unrealistic wage negotiation demands to be able to declare a dispute and continue on their way to strike.
As an example salary increase demands of more than 20 percent vs a projected inflation of seven percent for 2012 is next to ridiculous. Then add an array of additional allowances, e.g. housing, transport, cell phone, to the basket of requests and you are on the best way to send businesses into bankruptcy or massive retrenchments.
During the collective bargaining process the tactics deployed by the unions range from insulting the companies’ representatives, e.g. “slave driver” to a display of complete ignorance of economic drivers, unadulterated business illiteracy and outright lying. That is not exactly modern bargaining but rather old fashioned rhetoric, confrontation and power play.
The communication from the union to their constituency to justify these demands relies on the workers’ low level of understanding of the legal and bargaining processes.
Of course it’s music to every workers’ ears to hear promises of salary increases of 20 percent - but is it affordable let alone sustainable or will it even lead to job losses?
What I see happening is that workers are increasingly held hostage by union officials to advance their respective personal agendas.
Sadly, the workers have become useful only for their membership fees and voting power at trade union congresses.
The more confrontational the process with the employer the better for the union leaders. It a sad but true reality.
A recent study from Bowman Gilfillan Lawyers in South Africa shows that the striking workers usually lose more salary during the strike period than what they recover through the salary increase on an annualised basis.
The desire of Swapo to build the nation and to provide employment with the aim to develop the economy and reduce income disparity is the only sustainable way to bring Namibia forward.
It is thus not enough for union officials to shout “comrade” at every possible occasion but only pay lip service to the development of Namibia.
The trade unions are an important social partner that can help positively to develop both the economy as well as society at large by behaving responsibly.
We all know the slogan is: “Swapo! United! Swapo! Victorious! Now! Hard work!” Hard work is a good topic that could be discussed at union headquarters.
Matthias von Oelhafen