The Importance of Workplace Unions

Lucas Tshuuya

Namibia’s Constitutionprovides for independent trade unions to protect workers’ rights and interests and promote labour relations and fair employment practices.   

To give effect to this, parliament enacted the Labour Act.

Its overriding objective includes regulating the basic terms and conditions of employment for employers and employees; to ensure employees’ health, safety and welfare; to protect employees from unfair labour practices, to regulate collective labour relations and to ensure dispute resolution.

Therefore, it is safe to infer that the Labour Act, the legal framework for industrial relations, is double-barrelled: It protects both employees and employers in terms of rights and obligations.

This is to ensure sound labour relations, to maintain workplace order and help prevent abuse or discrimination on both sides.

The act defines an employer as anyone who employs or provides work for another person and who remunerates or undertakes to remunerate them for assisting in carrying out the employer’s trade or business.

An employee is defined as a person who works for the employer and who receives or is entitled to receive remuneration for their services.

From this, it is clear the relationship between an employer/employee requires mutual cooperation and respect.


The act also gives an employer the right to make employment decisions.

An employee is expected to obey lawful instructions by an employer through supervisors, who serve as the employer’s stewards.

Conversely, trade unions are mandated to have shop stewards at workplaces if there are more than five employees for them to make representations to the employer on employment conditions, or concerning dismissals.

Employees under the bargaining unit have recourse if they feel aggrieved by conduct not in line with their contract or workplace policies.

Employees should report labour impropriety to elected shop stewards and should not resort to unprotected industrial action such as striking or picketing.

Likewise, employers have a right to discipline employees who contravene workplace rules or policies.

Employees should not shy away from discussing a grievance with elected shop stewards as they are their official workplace representatives.

Shop stewards serve in voluntary positions and are the first link between bargaining unit members and an employer.


Shop stewards are not angels or some kind of demi-gods, but spokespersons for union members.

Their role is to solve problems and improve working conditions.

The correct title of shop stewards according to the Labour Act is workplace union representatives.

Therefore, they should not threaten or bully fellow employees by boasting they are the ones negotiating for their benefits or saving them from dismissal, etc.

Shop stewards should act sincerely and honestly, and in compliance with employers’ rules and procedures.

Also, it is incumbent on employees to know the basic rules and procedures, and their rights and obligations.

Whenever they feel there is a pressing issue not in line with an organisation’s policies, they should first try to resolve it with their supervisors, If this fails, they should approach their shop stewards.


Referring a dispute to shop stewards should be done in an orderly manner to avoid shop stewards taking over the duties of supervisors.

Issues not of a formal nature should be kept out of the workplace – such as spreading rumours about other employees, gossip, innuendo, accusing others out of envy, or even accusing them of practising witchcraft.

A united workforce is a healthy and productive workforce that strives for the common good.

  • Lucas Tshuuya is a legal practitioner from Onaanda in the Uukwambi district;

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