The Minister of Works and Transport has opposed a decision by the board of the Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) about extending contracts of its foreign management staff. There were comments made regarding remote work by the air regulator, which raises eyebrows.

The NCAA Chairman of the Board said that one of the South Africans working at the regulator was “advised to work remotely to provide his services. He is currently remunerated accordingly.”

This statement tolls the bell of #newnormal. It will soon become ordinary to employ workers who are not in Namibia or are more cheaply employed than locals.

The work visa is to protect the Namibian job market from foreigners who would take jobs that could be done by Namibians. All countries have work visa requirements. There is a skills-gap for technical jobs in certain agencies, companies, and industries (like the NCAA) in Namibia. Employing foreigners for remote work is not new. But, the pandemic and the lockdown have made it emerge as a viable, productive, cost-effective, mainstream option. And, there is no going backward.

Mindlessness in Namibia still allows foreign nationals to occupy technical jobs without a local trainee/apprentice to take over. This has exacerbated the skills-gap. That aside, is anyone focussing on the point made by the NCAA Board Chairman? Without a visa to work in Namibia, a South African national can do the work ‘remotely’ and be paid accordingly. So, what is the point of having the Ministry of Home Affairs adjudicate work visas? What’s the point, when some jobs can be done from anywhere in the world with no permit needed?

Companies around the world, including Namibia observed their workforce during lockdown. Many have re-evaluated the productivity levels and cost issues of having in-house staff vs remote staff. Though the data is still incoming, several have decided to promote remote work for some job categories.

With remote work, businesses and overseas job applicants will cheer because there is no need to align foreign qualifications with NQA levels. Tenders can be done with remote members of the work team who will never enter Namibia. Companies can downsize their plants as less office space and furnishings will be required. This will reduce plant operational costs and the number of service staff needed.

Labour analysists worldwide are watching this new reality carefully. They are trying to identify the upside and downside of jobs that could become permanently remote. There is no law in this gap.

Imagine that the higher-paying technical expertise scarcely available in Namibia routinely is outsourced to somewhere in Europe, North America or Asia? Can Namibians effectively compete for those remote jobs?

The remote worker could visit Namibia once a year, but mostly work at home, participating in Zoom or Skype or Google-meetings as needed. They can send in charts, data and analysis with implementation instructions delivered remotely. They will be available during the work day for anyone in-house to ask questions. They can be linked to the PC work screens of their subordinates in-house to monitor work, correct errors and manage the workload. They will work a full workday on their computer or doing a training session elsewhere to the same degree as those working in-office.

No housing or car allowances are needed for these ‘consultants’. No PAYE need be deducted, no local health insurance is deducted and no Social Security co-payments are needed. Leave and holiday pay may still be applicable and subsidies of data connections would be applicable. There are other benefits as well.

Many US credit card companies have been using telephone answering services in India for many years. They asnwer the millions of calls made by credit and debit card holders. Namibians using credit card or charge card services from South African-based banks, regularly deal with customer service operators based there.

In the new normal, more jobs will be permanently remote. Jobs are being redesigned into what can be done remotely and what must be done in-house. Job advertisements for talent will be sent farther abroad.

This trend needs to be studied, not feared. This is not time for the usual Namibian bull-in-a-china-shop regulatory axe. The situation on-the-ground due to technological advancements has outstripped the law. Regulators must catch up smartly. New rules are needed that fit the new normal.