Union density up in tough economy

Unions last year were most powerful in the education and mining sectors.

30 April 2019 | Labour

Jo-Maré Duddy – More than one out of every five working people in 2018 belonged to a union, according to the latest Namibia Labour Force Survey (NLFS) compiled by the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA).

Namibia has been in recession in 2017 and 2018, following meagre growth in 2016, the year in which government started embarking on its fiscal consolidation policy.

According to the latest NLFS, the number of employees in the country last year was 401 970 – 75 588 or nearly 16% less than 2016.

A total of 82 688 workers belonged to unions in 2018, nearly 1% less than 2016 when the last NLFS was conducted. This resulted in a union density of about 20.6% compared to some 17.5% in 2016.

Males belonging to trade unions in 2018 totalled 40 472 and females 42 216. Most union members – 61 456 – worked in urban areas.

With 16 835, Khomas had the most union members, followed by the Erongo region with 14 221. In Kavango West, unions had a membership of only 790.


Unions were most powerful in the education sector, where membership totalled 25 151, resulting in a union density of 58.5%. In 2016, it was 55.8%.

With 4 931 out of 10 868 employees belonging to unions, the mining and quarrying sector had a density of 45.4%. In 2016, density was 48%.

Other sectors with a high union density were: health and social work activities (35.5%; 5 999 members), water supply and related industries (34.7%; 1 317 members), financial and insurance activities (27.2%; 3 405 members), transportation and storage (23%; 3 545 members) and manufacturing (19.8%; 5 503 members).

Big employers like construction, however, had a low union density. Out of 33 707 employees, only 1 906 belonged to unions, resulting in a density of 5.7%.

Wholesale and retail had 53 779 employees, of which only 5 808 belonged to unions. The sector had a union density 10.8%.

Agriculture, water and forestry recorded a union density of 15.3%. Here 7 128 out of 46 751 employees had union membership.

Employees working in private households had the lowest union density. Out of 21 640 employees, only 113 or 0.5% belonged to a union.

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