15 November 2012

Namibia: Nampower Workers to Down Tools

Windhoek — NamPower branch chairman of the Mineworkers Union of Namibia (MUN), Winston Nguvauva, confirmed late yesterday that 520 paid-up union members will go on strike today.

Nguvauva said the union's biggest concern is the provision of medical aid after retirement. "Management currently receives 100 percent medical aid coverage after retirement, but the workers do not have this benefit and we want to do away with this discrimination," Nguvauva said.

Managing Director of NamPower, Paulinus Shilamba, confirmed that the industrial action, which is scheduled to take effect this morning at 06h00, will affect the national power utility's operations and its mandate of ensuring that power is generated, transmitted and supplied to all customers in the country and beyond.

Shilamba however assured Namibians that contingency measures have been put in place to ensure that the impact on the supply of electricity to the country is kept to an absolute minimum.

Currently about 60 percent of the workforce has a medical subsidy as a post-retirement benefit. This benefit was discontinued for staff members who joined the company after August 2004 since it was found to be unsustainable in the long term.

"This position was re-confirmed by an independent consultant last year who recommended to the Board of Directors that the option of extending this benefit to all employees in the post-retirement period not be considered as it will have a negative impact on the balance sheet of the company. "Should the NamPower Board reverse its decision and accept the union's demand in its current form, the additional medical aid liability to NamPower will be approximately N$90 million in 2012 alone, which the company cannot afford," explained Shilamba.

But Nguvauva maintained: "This (N$90 million) is an assumption. This is not money that they have to put aside in one go. This is for employees after retirement and it will only be applicable to three to five people per annum."

NamPower says it has proposed, as a way forward, that this matter be investigated further in more detail jointly between the two parties before a final decision is reached. This proposal was however rejected by the union.

On November 2, NamPower made an improved offer to employees, offering all employees within the bargaining unit (grades 10 to 18) a 9 percent wage adjustment.

The power utility's offer on the housing allowance was for all employees in grades 10 to 12 to receive 10 percent; those in grades 13 to 17 to receive 15 per cent and those in Grade 18 to receive a 35 percent increase on the housing allowance.

In terms of medical coverage, the company offered 100 percent medical coverage if an employee's disability happened while on duty. Employees outside the bargaining unit (grades 1 to 6) were offered a 6.5 percent adjustment, while those in grades 7 to 9 were offered a 7.5 percent adjustment on their total packages.

The management of NamPower and the branch leadership have been meeting since April this year to negotiate an annual wage increase, as well as other employment benefits. By September the parties had not yet reached an agreement and the matter was referred to the Office of the Labour Commissioner for conciliation.

However, no agreement was reached at the conciliation meetings and more than 500 paid-up union members voted on October 31 and November 01 in favour of a strike. The rules of the strike were officially signed on Friday, November 9 and the union notified NamPower of the planned industrial action on Monday, November 12.

"NamPower is convinced that it has been fair and reasonable in considering the demands of the union. The average salary increase for 2012 in the Namibian market is 8 percent, compared to the 9 percent offered by NamPower to the members of the bargaining unit, and this is even above the inflation rate of 6.7 percent at present. Furthermore, we are not aware of any company in Namibia or elsewhere in the world that has a 100 percent medical subsidy for employees during employment, as well as during retirement," added Shilamba.

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