Jobs are gone – what is the plan?

Jackie Wilson Asheeke

The new normal means that an unknown number of jobs that are lost due to COVID-19 may never return. A few employers might take advantage of the pandemic to cut salaries or job categories permanently. Most jobs that will vanish will be an honest reflection of a shift in how some sectors do business. How will Namibia get ahead of this crisis in the making? What is the plan?

Will we wait (as usual in Namibia) until we are in a crisis over permanent job losses? Or, will we make move to begin re-training programs and unemployment counselling. Will we begin identifying which jobs are gone forever and figuring out which new areas may have job openings? We could get ahead of this problem and help some people.

There are many companies that had to cut jobs and salaries as business dried up or disappeared since the state of emergency began. During this time, workers at a certain skills/professional level were able to work from home. As productivity levels were analysed, it became clear that some jobs can be done as well at home as in-office.

That work location shift, if made permanent, carries ramifications. Perhaps larger office spaces are no longer necessary – businesses may downsize their plants. With that shift, security guards, cleaners, drivers, receptionists, secretarial, and other support jobs are no longer needed to the same degree.

Due to tight financial times or impatience with signing in at every door or serious trepidation at being in public spaces longer than absolutely necessary, people with resources are shopping less. Mail order/online buying is increasing. This trend was already developing prior to the pandemic. It will accelerate. The only problem is to stop the thieves in the post office from stealing packages (FYI – Nampost needs to pull up its socks on these crimes).

People are only slowly returning to cafes and restaurants as the COVID-19 infection and death rates increase. But, with tighter household budgets and general uncertainty even for those with resources, spending for eating out is a luxury. Those who ate out 3-4 times per week might now go out only twice a month. This situation may not change for the longer term. Restaurants that had eight people serving customers may permanently reduce to five.

Perhaps a hotel with 30 cleaners has sent 28 of them home during this period where there are no bookings. Even when things ease up in 2021 and some tourists trickle in, they may only recall 10 of them.

Perhaps workshops, conventions, meetings, and business visits will also pick up again in 2021. But, until then, many jobs in the service industry for those clients and events, are gone.

Jobs at the airports in Namibia have been on ice. When airports re-open, there will still be a lower amount of passengers deplaning. This may mean pre-pandemic business levels will not be achieved until later in 2021 (if then). Some of those jobs are gone forever.

Government will soon have to face the music with Road Authority and other unprofitable SOEs. Hundreds of jobs will be lost. With the arrival of the IMF, government will have to swallow a sharp contraction in the bloated civil service.

We should be moving now to assess what job categories are expendable, able to be combined or reduced to part-time instead of full time. Which are lost permanently? What industries are gaining jobs or have a tangible potential for job creation.

With this information, let the Namibia Training Authority (NTA) use the training levy to help re-train people who have lost jobs permanently. They should prepare classes as quickly as possible. Workshops should be happening now on how to manage unexpected unemployment. Retrain viable candidates specifically for jobs in the few areas where growth is envisioned. Assemble the labour experts from each hard-hit sector and put them to work on this problem.

I will continue to advocate for unemployment insurance for all Namibians. A tiny percentage of every person’s pay check must be deducted for unemployment insurance. Those with letters of retrenchment and evidence of job interviews and applications submitted should receive free re-training and a small stipend for a few months.

Namibia was already at 36 percent unemployment even before the pandemic. Experts are now throwing around numbers like 50 percent unemployed. This is a catastrophe. Crime will skyrocket. Social ills of drug, domestic and alcohol abuse will be out of control. Families will disintegrate. History tells us that on the heels of this, is usually political unrest.

Let us not wait on the train tracks until we get run over. We must try hard to lessen the tragedy before it hits full force.

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