…stop hurling threats and help find solutions instead

Jackie Wilson Asheeke

The Ministry of Labour has overstepped the line. In the middle of the worse crisis ever, they are throwing shade rather than finding options.

There is no law of this land that forces a private company or individual to employ someone. There are laws about conditions of employment, minimum wages, and procedures to follow for termination. There is a labour court to challenge wrongful dismissal. There are civil courts to sue employers who do not pay wages earned or for unsafe working conditions. This is how it should be.

But, there is no law in this country saying that a company cannot lay-off workers. And yet, the Ministry is making ill-considered, general statements that seem to indicate that they aspire to do exactly this.

We are in a crisis situation in Namibia and it will likely be the case for all of 2020 and even 2021. Why throw a cat amongst the pigeons by claiming to be ‘working on a regulations’ that will prevent anyone from being laid off? Arguably, such a statement is a recklessly premature announcement. They know full well that it will take their sluggish system weeks to promulgate, legally check, consult with principals affected and edit such a regulatory framework. If it comes out too soon and half-baked, it will be challenged in court and lose. So, why announce it now?

Employers are not looking forward to firing their loyal staff members, in whom they have invested training and skills transfer. There is no joy in sending them home with no income to feed their families. I do not believe the Ministry of Labour has this perspective. I think they start from the assumption that every single employer is the big, bad wolf. That is why their statements and directives are so combative.

A private company has a board or owners that take financial decisions as is their fiduciary duty. Those decisions may include staff reductions and other cuts in order to save the company. Where in the constitution does the government have the power to prevent that from happening?

Granted, in a state of emergency and lockdown, there is a legal stretch allowed for governmental policing and control authority. Indeed, no one should be fired during the lockdown, (i.e., less than two weeks to go). But after that, what must be; will be.

Fact: if a tourism lodge is closed and has NO CUSTOMERS, then there is no work for kitchen staff, room cleaners, front desk workers, guest services staff, food/beverage managers, bar tenders, waiters or tour guides. How shall they be paid? And, what work shall they be paid for? There is no work, ergo there can be no pay. Let the Ministry of Labour address that conundrum first.

This noise about needing employee’s signatures before they are terminated is a fantasy. Employers must sue on that point and allow the courts clarify the sweeping statement made by the Minister. I cannot recall reading in the Labour Act where someone cannot be retrenched for business reasons unless they sign off on it.

Employers must share information with their outgoing workers, pay all benefits required and, proceed with the lay-offs in a dignified manner. No one should be treated like a dog being kicked to the curb.

Times are tough for everyone – workers and employers. Let us not pretend otherwise. The Ministry must stop being so aggressively anti-employer and recognize the burdens on ALL parties concerned.

All the ‘directives’, ‘upcoming plans and regulations’ or blustering from the labour ministry staff will not stop tens of thousands of retrenchments (or work reductions) as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Those numbers will keep going up throughout 2020.

Labour Ministry ‘directives’ about no terminations will not make tourists magically appear in Namibia for peak season 2020 or 2021. They will not increase exports; will not increase fish sales to Europe; will not make world markets for uranium or other minerals escalate; will not restart building construction; will not re-open SMEs that provide services to local customers with no money.

Let the desk-bound bureaucrats preaching from the Labour Ministry’s hallowed-halls, get off their duffs, get into cars and VISIT the businesses in trouble. Sit with those who will lay off workers, drop the usual “business-owners-are-liars” attitude, and try to see what can be saved.

Why are labour ministry officials not going with businesses to the Ministry of Finance and to the banks to get the promised bailout money disbursed faster? This will save jobs, albeit temporarily.

Labour ministry – Stop overstepping with unworkable proclamations and empty promises to a fear-filled workforce that there will be no terminations. Let the Labour Ministry earn their cosy, guaranteed civil service salaries and work day and night to save jobs by helping industry anyway possible.