17 October 2012

Namibia: Hospital Workers Down Tools

Windhoek — Workers at the country's two biggest state hospitals in Windhoek yesterday briefly deserted their workstations during a short-lived wildcat strike, including mainly cleaners, ward assistants, kitchen staff and clerks.

Yesterday's industrial action is only one among many recent strikes sweeping through the country and which at one stage even silenced the airwaves for an entire week, when employees of the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) went on strike.

The brief strike yesterday was over salaries as well as housing and transport allowances.

They are also unhappy over the fact that they did not receive an annual salary increase in April.

According to information obtained, more than 300 institutional workers at the Windhoek Central Hospital and the Katutura State Hospital participated in what has been described as an illegal strike. Ambulance drivers did not join the protest action.

The central regional coordinator of the Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) Gebhardt Endjala informed the workers that their strike was illegal, because certain procedures were not followed.

Each and every Namibian has a right to demonstrate, as long as the demonstration follows established procedures and the workers picket in their own free time, he told the striking workers.

Endjala nevertheless acknowledged that the union does understand the concerns of the workers.

"Take note that your concerns are our concerns," Endjala told the dissatisfied workers.

Yesterday the workers gathered at the assembly area of the Windhoek Central Hospital at 08h00 in the morning, instead of reporting for work, except for the kitchen staff who started work at 06h00 before joining the fray.

Some workers went as far as accusing the union of not having their interests at heart.

Endjala warned the workers on the consequences of embarking on illegal strikes, explaining that workers first have to declare a dispute with their employer and only after a deadlock can they decide on a strike, but not before notifying their employer of their action.

Endjala assured workers that Napwu has been negotiating with government over their demands.

"Negotiations will continue on Thursday," he told New Era.

"[Government] medical aid [member contributions] have increased.

"We just want an increase in our housing and transport allowance," one of the striking workers said.

Elizabeth Nantanga, a shop steward said a letter detailing the grievances of the workers was sent to Napwu two months ago. However, the union was not forthcoming in providing answers, she said.

A follow-up letter was written to Napwu two weeks ago, but to no avail, Nantanga said, adding that that is what prompted the workers to demonstrate.

In fact, she says, the workers informed the union on Monday [October 15], in writing, that they would 'stage a peaceful demonstration' if no response to their grievances was forthcoming, she explained.

The union's lack of action is what led to yesterday's action, she said.

The workers who are clearly upset by the seeming inaction or impotence of their union chanted "Down Napwu, down" during their protest.

The workers have in the meantime agreed to go back to work.

"We have decided to go back to work because the negotiations are on Thursday.

"On Friday we will go to the union and decide on the way forward," Nantanga told New Era.

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