Govt, employers should find common ground
THE imminent legal challenge by both the employers’ federation and the employers association to set aside government’s COVID-19 labour directives is an unnecessary reality that could have been curtailed by a mutual resolve that all stakeholders are in this COVID-19 fight together.
At least 120 employers are taking government to court to challenge some of the labour directives that have been proclaimed to the Labour Act amid COVID-19 with claims that these have left them in dire straits and facing imminent insolvency.
At the height of their challenge, the employers also claim that these proclamations were unconstitutional, null and void and of no force.
While these arguments may be valid, what is important to digest is that before these directives that seek to protect the employees who languish at the bottom of the food chain were proclaimed, consultations took place between government, labour unions as well as these very same employers who now have back tracked on the agreed resolutions.
In this broad sensed view, government enacted measures to support predominantly the employer, unveiling an N$8.1billion stimulus relief package in the hope that the employers will in turn extend the goodwill to employers.
Government efforts that have managed to contain COVID-19 cases to just 16 cases should be acknowledged and what ever discourse is taking place between government and the employers representatives should not reverse the gains of already achieved in saving lives of Namibians.
This legal challenge now showcases the bad faith of the employers who seem to be using their position as company owners to hold government at gun point, knowing very well that mass loss of jobs will plunge Namibia on a path to social unrest.
We acknowledge the weight of the argument brought forth by Labour Commissioner Bro-Matthew Shinguandja who this week questioned how the employers can say the regulations are unfair but deem it fair to not only send workers home without discussing or talking to them first but also to unjustifiably cut wages and force workers to take unpaid leave.
Undeniably, COVID-19 has ravaged the Namibian economy like no other pandemic, but the factor of uncertainty afflicting the economic system and the capacity of decision makers to respond to the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic in a timely and effective manner is significant.
This capacity is what points us to the understanding that legal squabbles and fights are what should be at the bottom of our to-do list as a country. The uppermost importance is to focus on working out synergies and collective strategies that will see us coming out at the other side of this invisible enemy victorious and united than before.
In prior discussions, the trio of our economic backbone – government, employees and the private sector – were all in near unanimous consensus that the Namibian economy is facing the most serious challenge of the post-war era due to the sudden halt in economic activity in the majority of our sectors with hospitality, tourism and construction topping that list.
That fundamental base should be what informs the steps that this trio to take to address the challenges. The breaking down of dialogue means that at the end of the day, one, if not all of these stakeholders will be left licking self-inflicted wounds.