All Peoples’ Party (APP) president, Ignatius Shixwameni has said greedy union leaders and their political and financial backers use the workers’ plight to advance their own selfish interests.
Shixwameni, who made this observation during a public lecture hosted by the Labour Resource and Research Institution (LaRRI), used the GIPF saga as a case in point where union leaders were found wanting when it came to address civil servents’ concerns as some unionists financially benefitted through their positions as members of the board of directors.
Another case in point was when two sister unions; Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) and Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union (Natau) that are both affiliated to the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) opted to rather fight over which one had more members than the other at the Namibia Airports Company (NAC) at a time when workers were facing mass layoffs.
The Swapo affiliated NUNW has also been accused by the rival Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) of neglecting workers’ issues to appease the ruling party on matters related to public servants.
Affiliates of the two trade federations have been at each others’ throats over worker reprsentation with Tucna, which is not affiliated to any polictical party, making huge inroads into NUNW territories especially in the fishing and teaching sectors.
Shixwameni said trade unions ruthlessly exploit workers as bait for economical benefits and have no genuine interest in the welfare of the disgruntled workers.
“We have that illusion that trade union leadership will spearhead the struggle of workers but they are only interested in their money. They are filthy rich, some of them have never been to the Havanna informal settlement. How can we trust that they will spearhead the struggle of the poor people and workers?” Shixwameni asked.
He said that political and union authorities choose to either delay or avoid interventions during labour disputes because they own major stakes in the specific entities.
The president of the APP persisted that it is clear union leaders are just using their positions to promote themselves politically while amassing wealth in the process.
"They have just been using their positions for political and financial advancement as is the case with many union leaders who are now in Parliament but do not speak up for the workers,” said Shixwameni adding that proof of this is that former union leaders in Parliament own businesses under dubious circumstamces, are millionaires and or are shareholders in multiple companies.
Somewhat reluctant to comment, Natau president John Kwedi, brushed Shixwameni off saying the latter’s statement was a politicial one and should have been discussed through the normal structures.
“That was a political statement. We can discuss it later. I don’t want to say anything at the moment. It must be discussed through the normal structures,” Kwedi laughed.
Meanwhile, NUNW secretary-general, Evilastus Kaaronda, is concerned that while Shixwameni’s statement certainly carry some truth, it is outrageously generalised and is unfair to union leaders who are, in fact, genuinely concerned with workers’ plight.
“Look, Shixwameni is neither wrong nor absolutely right, because the statement generalises the problem. It does not address the true nature of the issue,” Kaaronda stated.
He reiterated his conviction that indeed some trade unions have taken advantage of workers’ trust by betraying them and enriching themselves.
“Some have gone as far as becoming multi-millionaires through acts of betrayal. The GIPF issue where you have leaders literally stealing is a classic exapmle. What are the true benefits that are accrued by workers through their membership?” He asked adding that some trade union leaders have become managing directors and shareholders through ‘representing workers’ and yet workers have not benefitted from their (trade unions) services even after religiously paying their membership fees.
Kaaronda argued that this problem has its roots in the fact that trade union leaders instead choose to protect the interest of managers and companies because of money and other economical benefits.
“But you must remember, politicial ambition is also one of the reasons as some union leaders aspire to become ministers, deputy ministers. Like with GIPF where it is clear that some of these top managers are their friends who are involved in dirty dealings, trade unionists choose not to challenge them for this negligence. Yes, that was neglect of the highest order. So in order to show they are ready for politicial appointment union leaders side with the companies instead,” Kaaronda said.
However, Kaaronda put the blame squarely on workers themselves for the extent to which these actions have reached.
Workers must take control and demand answers from trade union leaders. If there are no right answers, they must fire these leaders,” he urged.
Meanwhile, the labour commissioner, Bro-Matthew Shinguadja, said that trade unions are not in the business to destroy employers but rather to negiotiate better terms and conditions.
“That is just a political statement but yes, I have heard about that many times as people fail to understand the dynamics of the labour industry. Trade unions are not there to confront employers but to negotiate better benefits.
"If you destroy the company today, where will you work tomorrow? If a company says it cannot sustain you, then it is not that unions must fight tooth and nail,” he said adding that common sense must prevail in such instances.
Shinguadja, however, noted that it is true that there are some union leaders who lack committment. But further pointed out that it is not wrong for a union leader to move up the social circles.