Air Namibia employees call for Mberirua’s axing

Andrew Kathindi and Helena Johannes

Air Namibia employees are calling for the immediate removal of interim Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Theo Mberirua after their salaries were officially cut last week.

This comes after the national airliner previously announced that it will cut, by 50 percent, salaries of all employees who have been unable to report for work due to a grounded fleet, incompliance with state of emergency regulations.

Despite Air Namibia’s flight schedule resumption after the state of emergency lapsed, Ndapewa Amupanda, Chairperson of the Shop Stewards’ Committee at Air Namibia confirmed to the Windhoek Observer that a company memo was sent out on Friday 25 September, informing the employees that salary cuts would begin on 26 September 2020.

“Employees demand the immediate removal of Mr Theo Mberirua as he is not the right person for aviation and Air Namibia. He is anti-unionist [and] doesn’t have an interest in workers’ rights,” said Amupanda.

She further questioned Mberirua’s ability to manage the airline.

“The employees demand that the board and shareholder appoint someone within Air Namibia with qualifications in aviation to take control of the running of the business. Employees demand to know what Air Namibia management’s plan is for the next 3-6 months on operation and revenue generation in the future.”

Amupanda said the decision to reduce salaries was a breach of an agreement staff and management reached in May 2020. At that time, it was agreed that instead of salary cuts, the employees gave up their leave days which are equivalent to 50 percent salary cut for a period of three months.

“The employees have given up their leave days for the past four months to save Air Namibia funds amounting to N$16 million. If employees gave up N$16 million, what has management given up to save the airline?”

She further questioned, “If the salary cuts are affecting the employees that were at home and not management, who was management managing to justify them to receive 100 percent of their salaries?”

“All we’re saying is, if management is cutting the salary of a cleaner who earns N$5 000, cut yours from N$100,000. Cut across the board, and then we can talk,” said one employee who was among those who voiced their anger.

Another employee complained, “What am I going to do with N$300? There is N$300 on my account now. The salary just entered and when they deducted everything, I am only left with N$300.”

Mberirua was appointed in June this year as interim boss of the struggling national flag carrier, replacing Chief Human Resources Officer, Elia Erastus, who also served as Acting CEO earlier in the year.

Mberirua argued that the salary cuts were being brought on by Air Namibia’s pre-COVID-19 financial situation, a position worsened by the pandemic.

“The airline cannot, at this stage, continue operations without cash flow with which to pay critical creditors. The financial losses incurred by the airline over the previous five financial years have left the airline in a state requiring immediate intervention on all fronts in an effort to change fortunes,” he stated in a letter to employees earlier this month.

When quizzed on whether salary cuts would still go ahead after borders are opened, Mberirua previously told Windhoek Observer, “I cannot discuss that. Employees have to find out through us if the salary cut is still ongoing not through the media,” he said.

However, Amupanda said that they were never consulted and that management went ahead with the salary cut decision unilaterally.

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