Mining and construction companies have the worst record in maintaining affirmative action and abiding by fair labour practices involving contract workers, Employment Equity Commissioner Vilbard Usiku has revealed.
Usiku told The Villager that in the past year, there has been an alarming rate of cases reported against these two industries over unfair labour practices.
“There is a lot of uncertainty in the contract labour system. In most instances, contract workers do not report issues of labour malpractices because they are afraid that their contracts would not be renewed after the employer learns of the case, and other workers often take examples from those who had lost their jobs as the direct or indirect result of reporting labour malpractices”, he said, adding that this makes it hard for any culprits to be brought to book.
Usiku added that the high unemployment rate and lack of knowledge about labour laws gives false confidence to employers who seek to exploit contract workers.
“Many employers keep workers on contract for many years, opting to continuously renew the contracts rather than employ the persons permanently because that would mean that they have to pay more in benefits”, he charged.
Usiku could, however, not provide the number of Namibian workers currently employed on contract because of the ever- changing dynamics of the contact labour industry.
In addition, he urged contract workers to report cases of unfair labour practices as chapter 5 of the Labour Act provides for the protection of all workers, including contract workers.
The Namibia Public Workers’ Union (NAPWU)’s General Secretary Petrus Nevonga shared Usiku’s sentiments, stating that there is no winning for contract workers because although they are treated well at their respective jobs, the mere fact that they do not have benefits is exploitation.
Speaking to The Villager, Nevonga said the contract labour market in Namibia is prone to the violation of labour laws as most contract labourers, especially those in informal jobs, often fall prey to labour injustices at the hands of their employers.
“Contract labourers are easily victimised and often do not report cases of labour malpractices because of the fear that they will lose their contract, which leaves them stuck in a job with unfavourable working conditions”, he lamented.
Nevonga further stated that most employers take advantage of the labour system and/or simply turn a blind eye to the needs of contract workers.
“Most of these contract workers do not receive any benefits like housing allowances, medical aid, transport allowances or pensions, which gives them a poor standard of life. Thus, we are making it our mission to make sure that those who are members of our union would be given at least one of these benefits”, he said.
Nevonga urged Namibian employers to give contract workers medical aid and housing allowances during the period of their contract, especially for contracts which last more than 12 months.
“We urge employers, especially those privately-owned companies, to give benefits to our members. It is pretty evident that the cost of life is ever-increasing, and for employers to increase employee productivity, they need to invest in them”, he continued.
Statistics from the Ministry of Labour reveal that at least 38% of Namibians are employed on contract basis.This comes after NAPWU and the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) last week signed a two-year employee benefits’ package agreement which will see medical aid benefits added for contact workers, as well as increased permanent staff allowances for housing, transport, medical aid, vehicle maintenance and motor-vehicle allowances for managers.
NBC Director-General Albertus Aochamub applauded the agreement for catering for the usually-neglected contract workers, adding that they add just as much value to the company and should be looked after.
“There will always be different kinds of employment status at the corporation due to the nature of what we do. However, this year we have also decided to hire 30 of our contract workers on a permanent basis, in comparison to previous years when we only took in between 10 and 20 employees”, Aochamub stated.
The agreement which has been in effect since 1 April 2015 also provides, for the first time, a rental allowance of N$730.00 to contract employees.
Aochamub further emphasized that the value of the benefits is a way of employee motivation to stimulate productivity.
In the last financial year 2014/2015, all employees across the board received a 9% increase, while the substantive increase this year is mostly included in their fringe benefits.
The housing subsidy ratio is now agreed upon as 62:38 for the employer/employee, up from a ratio of 60:40 last year. The medical aid contribution ratio has increased from 67:33 for the employer/employee to a 69:31 employer/employee ratio.
Medical aid for contract employees has also been increased. NBC would employ about 30 contract employees during the 2015/16 financial year.
“We at NBC value all our employees as important, and further believe in the value attached to contract employees and other freelance employees with specific valued skills”, said Aochamub.
NAPWU represents close to 80% of the full-time NBC employees, and is the biggest trade union in the country charged with the responsibility to defend workers’ rights and interests.
NAPWU is one of the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW)-affiliated unions, and organises workers under the NUNW federation. Other affiliated unions include the Food and Allied Industry (NAFAU), Mining Sector (MUN), Transport and Allied Industry (NATAU), Teachers (NANTU), the Financial Sector (NAFINU), Farming Sector (NAFWU), the Music Industry (NAMIU) and the Metal and Allied Industry (MANWU).