By: Kelvin Chiringa
Ex-employees of the now-defunct Air Namibia have appealed to employees of other state-owned enterprises to help them in their legal fight for their severance packages, as they reach almost a year now facing off with liquidators.
More than five hundred of them are now in a class-action lawsuit to pocket some N$105 million, which they say they are legally entitled to.
Former senior cabin crew member, Renier Buogard, has said workers feel neglected as they continue through the dry spell of joblessness, stripped of their former benefits that used to keep their families together like medical aid.
But Bougard had a chilling message for the rest of the labour force in the country’s struggling state parastatals.
In an exclusive interview with Eagle FM, Bougard warned that the liquidation of Air Namibia could soon catch up with other state entities. As such, it was more imperative that workers unite in their course and against further liquidations.
“Workers have to understand that if they are not united, they will fall like dominoes. We are here, working hard on our issue and guided by the law, but we are asking nicely that people support us because we have not received our payments.
“We are the first parastatal that was liquidated, and I am sure we will not be the last. After Air Namibia got liquidated, the ministry of public enterprises is no longer a ministry. So, we will be a case study in the future as to how liquidation is applied to state-owned enterprises and the process that is followed.
“So, we have an obligation towards all other parastatals and to our sisters and brothers working there, to tell them not to go through an emotional turmoil and to get experts in place as soon as you hear things like restructuring because it started with restructuring with us,” he said.
With Air Namibia having been placed under the hammer, its parent ministry is now about to be shrunk into a mere directorate with the objective of, in the long run, transforming it into a holding company.
The move by the government to dwarf the portfolio further fanned more debate leaning towards restructuring and cutting off a number of SOEs like RCC.
But minister Leon Jooste said this was a decision “based on technical facts and strategic rationale where the consolidation and streamlining of operational processes would inevitably result in substantial cost savings”.
Yet some fear this could be the harbinger of more doom for SOEs that continue to suckle from the dry breast of government.
There are currently fears that TransNamib could be next, a sentiment that has been strongly expressed by the unions who feel national assets are being sold to the highest bidder.
But as Air Namibia ex-employees continue to pressure their severance pay, they have expressed that none of the airline’s assets has been sold yet.
If this purchase is to be done, they strongly feel that they must be prioritized on the list of debtors to be paid out.
“Where are the former employees of Air Namibia? Where do they find themselves? It is the first time that we are being asked this question. We find ourselves unemployed and starving. Remember, it’s 640 employees, yes, but 640 families have lost income.
“So, by just calculating how many people are that? We lost houses. We’ve lost cars. We’ve lost medical aid within a pandemic. How are you going to take your kids now to a doctor? You have to pay in cash. And we never stayed with Air Namibia because of salaries. Salaries were not that high. Do not be mistaken. We stayed because of the benefits like medical aid,” he said.
A Bitter Pill
Bougard said the bitter pill they have had to swallow was seeing South African Airways (SAA) being saved by its government while it was the first to begin to falter before Air Namibia.
“Remember when Covid struck, already SAA was on their way to be in business rescue or to be liquidated. We overtook them just a few months, and we were liquidated way before them, and now they are restarting. Very painful,” he said.
In September 2021, Reuters reported that jubilant SAA staff at the country’s biggest airport broke into song and dance as the airline took to the skies for the first time in around a year.
“The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated State-owned SAA’s longstanding financial woes, and it halted all operations last September when it ran out of funds. Thanks to another massive government bailout, the company exited administration in April,” said Reuters.