Getting Jobs Back

Getting Jobs Back

THE UNIONS don’t like media to talk about ‘land invasions’, because that sounds too much like what’s been happening in Zimbabwe.

But it seems they’re simply playing word games when they insist that it’s merely a matter of returning evicted farmworkers to their places of work. And if so, what’s next: every disgruntled employee, fired for even legitimate reasons, can just get a group of protestors together to help return him/her to their former job?THE whole saga actually angers me intensely, because as a person who has always stood up for the rights of abused workers, and argued the case for union involvement on their behalf as well as all the protection the law can offer them, I now find myself wondering who’s exploiting whom?In my view the role of the unions should be to intervene early enough in labour disputes to effect some kind of conciliation or settlement, failing which to get the best deal for workers, rather than involve themselves at the eleventh hour only to ignite a conflagration.I’m not saying there is never reason for workers to take issue seriously with farm employers, but there are at the same time undoubtedly cases where matters are blown up out of all proportion.We may not have learned much from the Zimbabwe example, but I do believe that many (by no means all) farmers are aware of the steps that need to be taken before dismissing employees, and in some recent cases where unions have become involved in trying to reinstate workers, proper procedures were indeed followed by farmers before workers were dismissed.Unions should have ensured their presence at the times when hearings took place, rather than after the fact and once court orders were issued to evict farmworkers who would not comply.It stands to reason that at this point, emotions are running high – workers are enraged by evictions; farmers barricade themselves for self-protection; police are called in, and the unions seem to play no positive role to try and avert confrontation.If we’re all honest with ourselves, we’d acknowlege that while there is a clear need to deal with a redistribution of land in all its ramifications, it would be best if this is resolved in the spirit of what’s in the best interests of the country and ALL its people.In the same way as the Labour Code prohibits arbitrary and unfair dismissal of workers without disciplinary hearing and appropriate steps being taken in any such process, so too should the same processes be followed with farmworkers.It is when such processes are underway that the unions should ensure they have a role, and not, as they tend to do at present, only step in once matters have run their course.A bank employee, for example, who is ‘fairly’ dismissed after appropriate procedures have been applied, surely cannot gather together a support group to invade the said institution and demand his job back! After all, he or she did not own the bank; and neither, in most cases, do farmworkers own the land they have been removed from.There are also two clear issues here which should not be confused: the one is the legitimate claim of Namibians to a share of the land, a process which the Government is currently undertaking, although certainly at a pace too slow for the liking of the unions; and the other is the issue of workers who have been dismissed, and which is a labour matter, not to be muddled with land redistribution debates.Unfortunately in the most recent of incidents, the issues have been confused and entangled, even in cases where farmers have genuinely done their best by the workers they have retrenched and/dismissed through procedures upheld by the courts.The onus is on the unions to really do their homework.It is not in the interests of any one person in this country to exploit sensitive issues for clearly political agendas.Government has taken a fairly tough line, and the role of the unions is to negotiate on behalf of the workforce of this country (and there are many neglected areas in this regard that demand their attention) and not to appoint themselves as judge, jury and executioner in the land issue.This is clearly not their mandate.And if so, what’s next: every disgruntled employee, fired for even legitimate reasons, can just get a group of protestors together to help return him/her to their former job? THE whole saga actually angers me intensely, because as a person who has always stood up for the rights of abused workers, and argued the case for union involvement on their behalf as well as all the protection the law can offer them, I now find myself wondering who’s exploiting whom? In my view the role of the unions should be to intervene early enough in labour disputes to effect some kind of conciliation or settlement, failing which to get the best deal for workers, rather than involve themselves at the eleventh hour only to ignite a conflagration. I’m not saying there is never reason for workers to take issue seriously with farm employers, but there are at the same time undoubtedly cases where matters are blown up out of all proportion. We may not have learned much from the Zimbabwe example, but I do believe that many (by no means all) farmers are aware of the steps that need to be taken before dismissing employees, and in some recent cases where unions have become involved in trying to reinstate workers, proper procedures were indeed followed by farmers before workers were dismissed. Unions should have ensured their presence at the times when hearings took place, rather than after the fact and once court orders were issued to evict farmworkers who would not comply. It stands to reason that at this point, emotions are running high – workers are enraged by evictions; farmers barricade themselves for self-protection; police are called in, and the unions seem to play no positive role to try and avert confrontation. If we’re all honest with ourselves, we’d acknowlege that while there is a clear need to deal with a redistribution of land in all its ramifications, it would be best if this is resolved in the spirit of what’s in the best interests of the country and ALL its people. In the same way as the Labour Code prohibits arbitrary and unfair dismissal of workers without disciplinary hearing and appropriate steps being taken in any such process, so too should the same processes be followed with farmworkers. It is when such processes are underway that the unions should ensure they have a role, and not, as they tend to do at present, only step in once matters have run their course. A bank employee, for example, who is ‘fairly’ dismissed after appropriate procedures have been applied, surely cannot gather together a support group to invade the said institution and demand his job back! After all, he or she did not own the bank; and neither, in most cases, do farmworkers own the land they have been removed from. There are also two clear issues here which should not be confused: the one is the legitimate claim of Namibians to a share of the land, a process which the Government is currently undertaking, although certainly at a pace too slow for the liking of the unions; and the other is the issue of workers who have been dismissed, and which is a labour matter, not to be muddled with land redistribution debates. Unfortunately in the most recent of incidents, the issues have been confused and entangled, even in cases where farmers have genuinely done their best by the workers they have retrenched and/dismissed through procedures upheld by the courts. The onus is on the unions to really do their homework. It is not in the interests of any one person in this country to exploit sensitive issues for clearly political agendas. Government has taken a fairly tough line, and the role of the unions is to negotiate on behalf of the workforce of this country (and there are many neglected areas in this regard that demand their attention) and not to appoint themselves as judge, jury and executioner in the land issue. This is clearly not their mandate.

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