Lay-off fears mount after landmark ruling

Government was left with a bloodied nose yesterday after a court ruling that paves the way for retrenchments in the name of Covid-19.

24 June 2020 | Labour

JEMIMA BEUKES

WINDHOEK



Fears are mounting over widespread Covid-19 retrenchments after the High Court declared regulations by the labour ministry, aimed at banning dismissals, salary cuts and forced leave during the lockdown period unconstitutional and invalid.

Ministry executive director Bro-Matthew Shingudja yesterday said it is too early to tell whether they will appeal the decision.

“We must read it through to see what the court has taken into account. We are used to these kinds of judgments. We have to study the judgement to see whether we will go to the Supreme Court,” he said.

The Namibia Employers Federation, the Namibia Employers' Association and five private companies in the safari, aviation, transport and printing industry on 29 May brought the urgent application before court.

They also questioned President Hage Geingob's powers during an emergency under Article 26 (5) of the Namibia Constitution.



Regrettable

Labour expert Herbert Jauch described the judgement as a “smash in the face” of Namibian workers.

Jauch, who believes this will aggravate poor working conditions, said this is a disaster which will lead to a massive rise in poverty and inequality in Namibia.





“It is regrettable and will encourage employers to retrench workers at will. It shows how unprotected workers are in Namibia and it will strengthen the hand of employers,” he said.

Jauch emphasised that the court outcome will further embolden employers to lay off workers and leave workers with very little recourse.

“The Pick n Pay situation was symptomatic, they are operating in a sector that was not affected at all during this lockdown and yet we saw retrenchments from them,” he highlighted.

The retail giant recently announced that it will retrench 500 of its 1 931 employees in an effort to make the business sustainable. The announcement was made by PnP managing director Graeme Mouton who said the retrenchments were necessary because of the prolonged economic downturn and reduced consumer disposable income.

Just last week, the Construction Industry Federation's Barbel Kirchner announced that this sector has seen large-scale retrenchments with about half of the 60 000 workers employed in the formal and informal construction industry sent home. The country has also seen thousands of jobs lost in the mining and tourism sector, which has recorded more than 44 000 job losses.

The Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) said President Geingob must fire justice minister Yvonne Dausab and attorney-general Festus Mbandeka for “ill-advising” him.

According to Tucna president Mahongora Kavihua, the pair should be punished for not crafting water-tight regulations which would have stood the test of time in the High Court.

“We are calling to recall his justice minister and attorney-general and if he cannot, then he must step down himself for failing the workers. This judgement will now give employers a license to mistreat workers,” he said.

“This is a slap in the face of workers and has exposed this capitalist ideology. It is truly unfortunate for workers because now we will see how employers will start firing workers at will,” he said.



Necessary evil

Local economist Dr Omu Kakuhaja Matundu said retrenchments at this point will be a good thing for the sake of the economy, if done in good faith. He said he believes it is better to survive the economic storms at present and re-employ later when the economic tide is rising, instead of risking it all.

“Because how is it going to work out if you are saying keep them for two months, but in that time, you don't have any money to pay them or keep business afloat? It will be a very dangerous. But there is a possibility that employers may use Covid-19 as a leeway and scapegoat to lay off their workers,” he admitted.

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