Employers, govt at loggerheads over salaries

31 March 2020 | Labour

The Namibia Employers’ Federation (NEF) says it is “very disappointed” with the labour ministry’s stance that employers across all sectors should ensure that all employees are fully remunerated for March and April.
This was not the common position held at a tripartite meeting held last week, NEF secretary-general Daan Strauss said in a statement today.
The NEF, together with one of its members, the Construction Industry Federation of Namibia (CIF), attended the tripartite meetings.
Following the meeting, the executive director of the ministry of labour, industrial relations and employment creation, Bro-Mathew Shinguadja, issued a statement calling on employers not to retrench, force employees to resign or take unpaid leave during lockdown.
The public announcement by the ministry resulted in great confusion between employers and employees across various sectors, Strauss says.
During these meetings joint feedback from the employers’ representatives was provided on the dire situation most Namibian employers find themselves in with respect to both economic survival and human resource management during the crisis caused by the global Covid-19 pandemic, he says.
“This was done in the tripartite spirit of jointly finding solutions to the current and future situation all Namibian employers face. There was a general consensus amongst all participants to the meeting – the majority of which were union representatives - that an unprecedented labour crisis is upon us.
“As employer representative organisation we are therefore very disappointed that the announcement made by the Ministry of Labour, does not reflect a common position of the stakeholders present. We are also of the opinion that the tripartite forum does not have the statutory powers to issue a mandatory order,” Strauss says.
In his statement, Shinguadja says the ministry has learnt with concern that there are some employers who are forcing their employees to take annual or unpaid leave.
“This practice should be avoided at all cost and if any kind of leave is to be taken, it should be mutually agreed upon. Forced unpaid leave is illegal and hence unacceptable,” Shinguadja said.
According to the Namibian Labour Act, Section 23 (5), the employer indeed has the right to ask employees to take leave, if accrued, Strauss says.
“However, the Labour Act does not cover that the employer can ask the employee to take unpaid leave. The NEF therefore suggests that this be negotiated with the employee, explaining the situation.
“The Labour Act also does not cover granting leave that has not been accrued. But it is common practice and a better alternative than unpaid leave,” he says.
“One also has to bear in mind, that if an employer cannot pay full salaries, that they can consider reduction of salaries with simultaneous reduction of work hours for three months, with the possibility of extending this by another three months as per the Labour Act, Section 12 (6) and (7); or ultimately, retrenchment,” Strauss says.
He continues: “In order to keep businesses open and contribute optimally to Namibia’s economy and ensure Namibia’s economic survival, it is critical that an amicable solutions is found, which might require a compromise from all sides.”
“It is imperative to remind the Namibian public and employees in particular that our economy has been subjected to a period of continued recession prior to the Covid-19 epidemic, which has put various business and industries under severe financial pressure and continues to threaten the continued existence of some businesses.”
“The NEF therefore wishes to reiterate that the current situation is without precedent and that all Namibians face similar problems, of sacrifices and compromises that will have to be made by all, based on negotiation and creating understanding,” Strauss concludes.