Workers With Rights but No Recourse [opinion]

NAMIBIAN workers have rights on paper but with little or no recourse at all to such rights. This is the conclusion one can or could come to after listening to caller after caller to the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation’s (NBC) Otjiherero Language Service on May Day, May 1, also known as Workers’ Day, offering plight after plight regarding the many trials and tribulations of the workers in modern day Namibia.

Put bluntly, the views expressed are without any exception nothing but a litany of indictments that workers are currently having nothing but a rough ride. A clear indictment of the seeming efforts of all and sundry purporting to have the interests of the workers at heart. Thus, albeit these callers-in, the rights of the workers in Namibia today, despite the Labour Act, remain only on paper. And as much, despite the existence of various trade unions, they are at best far removed and alienated from the very workers they are supposed to be representing, and at worst in most cases seem to be bedfellows of those perpetrating and committing untold violations of the rights of workers. No one seems to go unscathed in this litany of grievances by the in-calling members of the public. All employers alike, whether in the private sector, non-governmental organisations and even international governmental organisations and private homes, you name them. All are guilty of the violations of the rights of workers, their abuse and subjection to all kinds of unimaginable, unbearable and uncivilised working conditions. The only sector that seems to escape such scathing is the public sector, with the only grievance directed against the public sector in this instance being the conspicuous absence of labour inspectors, when and where the workers need them, at the workplace, whether such a workplace is a factory, farm and what have you. Farm workers, domestic workers, be it in private homes or in establishments like the hospitality industry, all seem to have one thing in common – their rights which are trampled on, ranging from starvation wages to lack of basic benefits like health insurance allowances, transport and housing allowances, leave days, lack of decent accommodation, etc. Despite such blatant violations and denial of workers’ rights, workers do not seem to have representatives. The tripartite alliance that is supposed to bring together workers (andor their representatives), employers and the government to address vexed labour and industrial questions, if not first and foremost their rights and working conditions, seem no better than a club of elites whose foremost interest is maintaining the status quo. And what is this status quo? The continued violation of the rights of the workers, and their perpetual condemnation to conditions akin to slavery. As one caller pointed out, the workers’ representatives, and of course only for those who may afford such that these days they seem a luxurious rare commodity, such are for all intents and purposes only a semblance of representation and no more than public relations agents for such employers and their companies than the voices of workersemployees.

Thus the effect of any intervention by such so-called workersemployee(s)’ representatives, have at best been to keep the workers in check, and at worst to placate the violations perpetrated by the employer(s). The marginalised workers are, most of the time, despite their apparent representatives, condemned to own devices. Not to mention the fact that in most cases such representatives do not pitch up to attend to the grievances and complaints of their members. As one caller, a domestic assistant, pointed out, working for several employers, only earning N$50 per day from each employer, she is unable to afford union membership fees but the union is insisting on representing only paid-up members. In fact, that workers are all the more losing confidence in the unions, and are finding themselves day by day alienated from such unions in their daily struggles to have their rights recognised and observed, is common knowledge today in Namibia. This is not only the plight of what one would strictly define as workers in the true Marxist-Leninist definition and analysis of classes, but people who may not necessarily be defined as such, and upper in the socio-economic echelons, have also been at the sharper end of the violations of the Labour Act.

I cannot recall how many a time, for want ofand absence of unions to represent them, let alone labour consultants to aise them, individuals been knocking at my door in search of a having their chains unshackled, or even seeking aice in the face of harassment, intimidation and outright violation of their human workersemployees’ rights by their employers. Some of these employers are international governmental organisations that are supposed to be in the better if not best know of human rights, of which workersemployees’ rights are an integral part. These instances, of all, should be familiar of the content and provisions of the Namibian Labour Act, whose content, needless to say, is partially if not wholly influenced by international instruments and conventions relating to workers’ rights, such as the provision of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). While these employees, and in the case of international governmental organisations, may have “staff representative bodies”, as they may be termed in some such organisations, whose members should represent all staff equitably, it seems that such bodies more than anything else have been but a tool of management control of workersemployees and the suppression and violation of their rights. Some of the instances that have seemingly at best been oblivious and ignorant of the local labour provisions, and at worst in outright violation of the rights of workers in Namibia, are foreign-based companies operating in Namibia, not to mention even diplomatic missions here in Namibia. Many a time due to a misinterpretation and misapplication of the concept of diplomatic immunity, they have been able to get away with such violations.

Source : New Era