Namdock backpedals on mass disciplinary hearings

Niël Terblanché

In a recent turn of events, Namibia Drydock and Ship Repair (Pty) Ltd. (Namdock) has postponed its planned mass disciplinary hearings following a formidable challenge by the Metal and Allied Namibian Workers Union (MANWU), represented by Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys.

The planned mass disciplinary hearings stem from the first week in April when employees of Namibia’s premier provider of marine engineering solutions downed tools in protest of the company’s decision to change their working conditions without any prior notice.

Initially set for May 10 and May 13, 2024, the hearings were intended to address allegations against a total of 484 employees, including 475 regular workers and nine shop stewards.

At the time, employees staged a protest in front of the Namdock head office in Walvis Bay, demanding answers from management.

Employees accused Namdock management of cancelling their tea break without consulting them or their labour union, the Metal and Allied Namibia Workers Union (MANWU).

They claim that no one informed them of the new working conditions before it was implemented.

The employees denied that their protest amounted to strike action and clarified that they were merely requesting a meeting with the company’s CEO, Albertus Kariko, to discuss the changes in their working conditions.

The protesters stated that Kariko is known for his aversion to engaging workers’ unions and added that they felt ignored.

Namdock accused the employees of initiating unlawful industrial action, stating that their action was not following the provisions of Namibian labour law.

The mass disciplinary hearing was cancelled after legal intervention pointed out significant flaws in the company’s plans.

MANWU, on behalf of the workers and through their legal representatives, Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys, raised concerns about the fairness and procedural integrity of the planned mass disciplinary hearing.

However, scrutiny by MANWU’s legal team uncovered that Namdock’s disciplinary code lacks provisions for such mass hearings, which would see hundreds of workers tried simultaneously, which is viewed as fundamentally unfair and dismissive of workers’ rights to individual hearings.

In a letter to Namdock dated May 8 and seen by the Windhoek Observer, Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys pointed out the improbability of effectively conducting fair hearings within a single day for such a large number of employees.

“Each employee deserves the right to present individual defences and call witnesses, requirements that are impossible to meet under the planned mass format. Citing past legal precedents, the attorneys underscored the necessity of legal representation in complex and serious cases that could result in severe penalties like dismissal,” the legal team argued in their letter.

Responding to these concerns, Namdock’s CEO, Kariko, confirmed the postponement of the planned hearings.

In a letter dated 8 May to Metcalfe Beukes Attorneys, Kariko stated that a more detailed response regarding the legal and procedural validity of the planned hearings would be provided next week, acknowledging the union’s request for a fair and just process.

This development comes after stern warnings from MANWU’s attorneys about the potential escalation of the matter to the labour court should the company proceed without addressing the highlighted issues.

According to Advocate Richard Metcalfe, the firm stance taken by the union is noteworthy support for workers’ rights and proper legal process.

He said that Namdock is at a critical juncture, requiring the company to strike a balance between corporate and disciplinary measures and the fundamental principles of fairness and justice enshrined in the labour law.

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