24 Februar 2021 | Wirtschaft

Workers turning up the heat

Jo-Maré Duddy – Fourteen unions last year applied to the ministry of labour, industrial relations and employment to be registered, nearly five times more than in 2019.

Quarterly labour reports of the ministry show half of the applications were filed in the first quarter of last year.

Only one application for registration from an employers’ organisation, the Consolidated Employers Organisation of Namibia, was filed in 2020.

According to the ministry, Namibia had 41 registered trade unions at the end of last year, one less than the end of September 2020.

Analysts agree that workers’ waning disposable income will likely heap union pressure on employers in the near future.

The ministry’s reports show it handled 5 952 labour disputes in 2020, nearly 32% more than the previous year. As in 2019, the ministry managed to resolve about half of the disputes through conciliation and arbitration.

A total of 3 070 new labour cases were also referred to and processed by the ministry in 2020, about 57% of which materialised in the last two quarters of the year. In 2019, a total of 3 303 new cases were pursued by the ministry.

INDUSTRIAL ACTION

Five peaceful demonstrations took place last year, as well as two strikes. In 2019, the ministry recorded 10 peaceful demonstrations and two strikes.

In recent interviews with local analysts, Simonis Storm (SS) said organised labour will be under pressure to perform especially in an environment where companies will have to lay off workers. “However, their negotiating power will be weakened if the economic and business environment remain depressed,” SS added.

Dr Omu Kakujaha-Matundu, a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Namibia (Unam), said unions and employers in 2020 might be at loggerheads to the detriment of both.

“Employees are struggling to feed their families and extended families who are reeling under the economic pressure and employers are struggling with meeting the bottom-line. An honest conversation needs to happen among organised labour, employers and government,” Kakujaha-Matundu said.

IJG Securities said huge wage increases are unlikely this year as inflation is still very low and company profits remain under pressure. “This could trigger a knee-jerk reaction by labour unions who might initiate industrial action to force employers’ hands,” IJG added.

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