by Adam Hartman

THE Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN) on Tuesday criticised the Namibian Employers’ Federation (NEF) for dragging the government to court to halt certain Covid-19 labour directives.

Abiud Kapere

The government has ordered that employers may not dismiss workers between 28 March and 2 June, which marks the end of stage 2 of Namibia’s lockdown exit strategy.

In reaction, the NEF and various other employers have filed an urgent application at the High Court against the president, the government and trade unions to have the suspension of parts of the Labour Act during the Covid-19 state of emergency declared unconstitutional.

The MUN says the move by the federation does not consider the welfare of workers.

“We find the statements by the NEF ill-considered, and not in the spirit of tripartite cooperation. If workers are required to be understanding of the difficulty faced by employers in these unprecedented times, we then also expect employers to be sensitive and sympathetic to the plight of workers, who face the prospect of unemployment, starvation and destitution,” Abiud Kapere, western regional chairman of the MUN, said in a statement.

Kapere said the federation’s call for the setting aside of the directives makes its intentions to complement the government’s efforts in challenging times questionable.

“We call upon all stakeholders, regardless of industry, to prioritise the principles of collective bargaining and encourage constructive dialogue in the interest of amicable consensus in these tough times, instead of making threats that undermine the government’s initiatives which are merely aimed at easing the negative impact of the Covid-19 pandemic,” Kapere said.

He said mineworkers will not take the matter lightly.

“If we have to apply solidarity of the mining industry to support the government, we will do so in whatever form is necessary,” he said.

Not only may employers not dismiss employees in the specified period, they may also not force employees to take unpaid leave or annual leave due to the pandemic, and they may not reduce payment of employees for reasons related to the pandemic.

Employers are required to reinstate employees who have been dismissed due to the effect of the pandemic on their businesses, and to negotiate with recognised trade unions, workplace representatives or affected employees themselves if they want to reduce or defer payment or remuneration during the lockdown period.

Employers say they have no choice but to reduce their staff numbers to protect their companies from huge financial losses.

The secretary general of the NEF, Daniel Strauss, said in an affidavit filed at the court that many employers in Namibia are facing imminent demise if they are not allowed to use the provisions in the Labour Act to try and cut their labour costs.

The case has been postponed to 26 May for a hearing.

The Namibian reported recently that 543 employees were retrenched at 10 companies during the lockdown, and the figure has climbed with more job losses looming.

The tourism, construction and mining sectors are among the hardest hit.

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