Employees of the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) went on strike today to demand for higher wages

Employees of the National Housing Enterprise (NHE) went on strike today to demand for higher wages. The process which led to the breakdown of negotiations between the company and employees has been going on since 2019. In this exclusive interview with the Windhoek Observer Spotlight (OS), the Chief Executive Officer of NHE, Gisbertus Mukulu (GM) shed some light on the strike and other operational matters at the NHE.

OS: Mr. Mukulu, in a nutshell, what led to the breakdown in talks between union, board and management?

GM: From the beginning of our negotiations until the end, which eventually led to the deadlock, we’ve always made it very clear to the colleagues in the union that the financial position of NHE makes it totally impossible for the company to accommodate the unions’ demands. The financial position of the company, which was exacerbated by Covid-19 made it virtually impossible to entertain any talks about the increment of any wages.

OS: Did the company do something, if any, in its power to avert the strike, because obviously the strike will have severe consequences for the company.

GM: You are very right about the consequences. But it is not only for the company, but also for the employees. This is an unpaid strike, meaning that whoever stay away from work will not be paid for those days absent. We all know and understand the state in which the country’s economy find itself in. As a management we have had numerous engagements with the employees and the unions. We have even opened up the books of the company and articulated the financial position the company finds itself in. however, that didn’t help at all.

OS: What is the total staff complement of the NHE and what’s the monthly wage bill?

GM: The NHE currently employs 123 people, nationwide. Our total wage bill (budgeted) for the year is, is N$89,799,188. Staff cost is currently the highest cost driver for the company, and it comprises of 67 percent of the total operational expenditure of of the company which is N$139,865,495. And this exactly what we have been communicating to the colleagues and especially the unions. A higher wage bill is totally unsustainable. More income will have to be generated to accommodate wage increases. Right now, the NHE is not generating sufficient revenue resulting in cashflow and liquidity problems. The wage bill is not sustainable. We are not able to meet the demands of the employees.

OS: What’s the percentage of the workforce expected to go on strike?

GM: The situation as it stands 90 percent have voted in favour of the strike. I want to reiterate, once again, that this is an unpaid strike, and nobody will end up winning. The company will lose an income and so will the colleagues who chose the unfortunate route of going on strike. At this junction, I would like to plead with the colleagues to reconsider their action. My door remains open to stop or avert the strike, but within the realistic confines of the company’s financial position.

OS: Many workers claim that they are underpaid. What’s your opinion?

GM: This can’t be true, because NHE, despite its financial position is one of the best paying SOE’s in Namibia. We pay market related salaries. Our books are open to scrutiny and comparison. Over and above that, the company pays 80 percent medical Aid cover as well pension and related benefits. Over and above that, the company ensures that with every project NHE employees get preference to buy houses.

OS: When was the last time workers received a salary increment?

GM: Employees last received increases in 2019. You will also appreciate the fact that our country and economy was ravaged by Covid-19 which had a devastating effect on the company’s finances. To demand wage increases during the time of recovery is not fair to the company.

OS: One of the complaints by employees is the perceived instability of the top management of the company. Does NHE have a substantive top management?

GM: NHE’s EXCO comprises of 5 substantive members of which 3 are vacant. The CFO and CEO are the only permanent substantive EXCO members. Executive Positions for Infrastructure Development, Sales and Lending and Human Resources and Strategy have people in Acting capacity. The positions will be advertised during March 2023 and filled before 30 June 2023.

OS: How do you think this impasse can be broken?

GM: I want to urge all of us to be patriotic and house the Namibian nation.

OS: What message do you have for the strikers?

GM:The proposed strike by the NHE employees will be detrimental. The unions main demand is unrealistic under the prevailing economic conditions cannot sustain the company.

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