Ngatjizeko and employers at loggerheadsBy: JO-MARÉ DUDDY
LABOUR and Social Welfare Minister Immanuel Ngatjizeko yesterday lashed out at those who oppose changes in the labour law, especially labour hire, saying some employers still treat black workers like slaves.
“We have asked ourselves whether the Namibian employers have any idea of the conditions under which they lowly paid and marginalised ‘casuals’, ‘temporaries’ and ‘independent contractors’ must live,” Ngatjizeko said at a media conference.
“Have they considered how the meagre wages that they pay these employees, without pension, medical benefits, transport and housing allowance are stretched to provide food, shelter, clothing and other basic needs for a family?” he ranted.
“Do they seriously contend that implementing a law to afford a greater degree of justice between and equality to these workers will threaten the social stability of Namibia?
“Do they seriously contend that investors coming to Namibia to exploit its uranium, copper, oil and diamonds or other natural resources will stay away because of Namibia’s commitment to decent work?” Ngatjizeko continued.
Especially the Namibia Employers’ Federation (NEF) came under fire. Ngatjizeko accused the NEF of unleashing a “disinformation campaign intended to frighten employers and to hold the Namibian nation hostage”.
Government and the NEF have been at loggerheads over amendments to the Labour Act which come into effect on August 1.
The new regulations stipulate that when a company uses a casual worker from a labour-hire agency, that worker becomes an employee of the company. As such, the worker enjoys the same rights as other employees of the company under the Labour Act, including protection against unfair dismissal and the choice to belong to a trade union.
The act further stipulates that the company has to hire the worker on the same terms and conditions as its other employees. It also introduces a presumption of indefinite employment for any worker, unless the company can justify a fixed-term contract.
Ngatjizeko accused the NEF of distorting the law to “scare employers into believing that they may no longer hire temporary employees, that all current temporaries must be converted to permanent, and that contractors will become the employers of the employees of their subcontractors on August 1”.
He insisted that the amendments do not “prohibit, but rather regulates the practice of labour hire”.
Ngatjizeko said he sent the NEF a list of questions to “focus on the concrete perceived problems” before an urgent meeting between the parties last Friday.
At the meeting the NEF’s concerns were discussed is detail, Ngatjizeko said. He said he got the impression that the NEF’s “misconceptions” were eliminated and that they were prepared to work with the ministry to implement the act.
“No meeting was made at the meeting of either delaying implementation or scrapping the act,” Ngatjizeko said.
NEF secretary general Tim Parkhouse yesterday told The Namibian that the federation was “not very happy” with Ngatjizeko’s remarks. However, he said the NEF didn’t want to take on the minister on a public platform, as it was not the place.
However, the NEF is sticking to its guns that the amendments, if implemented, could spark a legal battle. “I’ve heard whispers about it,” Parkhouse said.
He said Ngatjizeko was briefed that the wording in the amendments is too vague and won’t hold up in court. At his press conference, Ngatjizeko said following the NEF’s concerns, Government legal drafters reviewed theAact in detail and “reaffirmed the propriety of the language employed in the Act”.
Parkhouse said the NEF “has never, and will never” be in favour of the abuse of workers and that they have no problem with the principle behind the amendments. However, in its present form the changes are very restrictive.
The NEF remains convinced that the new Act will lead to job losses in the casual labour force, estimated to be around 16 000 at present.
Ngatjizeko said the NEF “claimed, as it often does when Government attempts to strengthen protections of workers, that the new law was certain to cause unemployment”.
The NEF yesterday afternoon had a board meeting where the issue was discussed.