The Namibian (Windhoek)

4 December 2008

Namibia: Labour Hire Banned

LABOUR hire will be illegal in Namibia from March 1 next year, Labour Minister Immanuel Ngatjizeko announced yesterday.

The decision follows a High Court judgement earlier this week, which saw a full bench of three judges rule against a challenge to the new Labour Act by labour-hire company Africa Personnel Services (APS).

Ngatjizeko's announcement, which was published in the Government Gazette yesterday morning, comes despite an APS appeal against the High Court ruling on Monday.

An estimated 10 000 to 16 000 workers are registered with labour brokers.

APS has the lion's share - between 6 000 and 8 000.

POTENTIAL IMPACT Opinions on what the ban is likely to mean for the labour sector vary.

Some companies say they already started moving away from labour hire as debate around it intensified the past two years, while others say they are likely to follow suit.

"The only real hole that's been created now is in the sense that APS used to have a pool of, for example, drivers that you could make use of, and should four not show up for work on one day it was as easy as picking up the phone and the work could go on.

"But on the other hand, you'll probably see a greater number of workers being trained to be multi-skilled now, so that's a good thing too," said one manager at a local beverage company, who asked not to be named.

Another manager at a local retailer, who spoke unofficially, suggested that labour-hire workers at the Khomasdal shop would most likely now be employed directly by the company.

'CRIMINALISATION' APS spokesman Johannes Kapembe said the company hoped that its appeal against the High Court ruling will be heard before the March deadline.

"We'll be contacting our legal team, they will advise us on whatever steps to take should the appeal not be heard by March 1," he said.

At yesterday's press conference where the ban was announced, Ngatjizeko said the date was set to take into account the rights of the workers affected.

"I would have preferred to officially criminalise and end the labour-hire system on an earlier date, but have chosen March 1 both to protect the rights of the affected employees and to allow for an orderly transition," he said.

"If labour-hire companies decide to terminate any of their employees as a result of the implementation of Section 128 - Section 34 of the Labour Act stipulates a 30-day period of notification of termination and a procedure that the employer must follow during that period to negotiate with the employees or their representatives over the effects of the termination," Ngatjizeko said.

He appealed to businesses that currently make use of labour-hire workers to enter into direct agreements with those workers.

"As from March 1 2009, labour inspectors will inspect workplaces that may be involved in the outlawed activities and will take steps to initiate prosecution of those who continue the practice of labour hire.

"I also appeal to every law-abiding citizen to bring to the attention of this ministry any violation of this section in particular, and the whole Labour Act in general," the minister said.

APS, in its original High Court application, argued that labour hire was an important economy booster, especially in sectors such as agriculture, mining, fishing, transport and construction.

In his ruling against the application, however, Judge Collins Parker equated labour hire to modern-day slavery, saying it reduced human beings to personal property.

"In my opinion, it is letting or hiring of persons as if they were chattels," Parker stated in his 26-page judgement delivered on Monday.

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