21 November 2012

Namibia: Many Workers Victimised

A total of 3 000 labour-related cases were lodged with the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare last year, and the cases came from all sectors of the economy.

The construction sector was found to be very 'problematic' with a handful of foreign employers failing to comply with the set minimum wages.

However, the ministry cannot say with certainty that farm workers are the most deprived of all workers in terms of their wages.

The ministry was responding to questions over a report New Era carried on Monday regarding the ill-treatment of farm labourers by white farmers in the Steinhausen Constituency.

The constituency councillor, who is also the Deputy Minister of Fisheries, Kilus Nguvauva, described the situation of the ill-treatment of labourers to the newspaper as "alarming". He said much of the ill-treatment of farm workers goes unreported, and cited cases of physical assault, regular insults, and workers being fired without valid reasons and compensation.

Paulus Ashipala, liaison officer in the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, yesterday said the ministry is aware of the difficulties employees such as farm workers go through, referring to the number of cases received over the course of last year.

"Normally there are two types of allegations the ministry receives. One is the complaint of physical abuse and assault, which is purely a police case. The second is labour complaints or allegations that the ministry takes up and investigates. Once the ministry confirms that the allegation is true, an instruction is given to the respondents to rectify the situation. In cases where the allegation requires police intervention, the ministry advises complainants to approach the police and open criminal cases," Ashipala explained.

The ministry receives regular complaints and cannot really say with certainty how many farm related cases have been reported, since some cases are police cases, he said. Ashipala could also not say how many farmers or employers were prosecuted for victimising their workers, saying the ministry does take action - however only once a complaint has been received.

"Once a complaint is received, such as unlawful deduction and it is confirmed, the ministry instructs the employer or the respondent to rectify the situation. If such employer resists or refuses to pay, then the ministry issues a compliance order to that employer as per the provision of the Labour Act. If such employer still resists, then the ministry lays criminal charges," he said. The ministry also conducted annual inspections at workplaces, including farms, to ensure the workers are paid the prescribed minimum wages in accordance with the labour law.

Inspections are also carried out when suspicions have been raised that employers are not complying with the prescribed minimum wages.

One such inspection exercise is currently taking place in the Okahandja district where, Ashipala said, reports of non-compliance have emerged.

Such kinds of undertakings take an educative, advisory and inspective approach for both parties, because there are always instances where employers plead ignorance of the labour laws.

"Again, if they refused to comply, a compliance order is issued and if the situation persists, a criminal case is opened. With farmers, normally once the inspection confirmed non-compliance, they usually comply after instruction but the problem area is the construction industry where there is a handful of foreign companies," said Ashipala.

He advises workers to report such cases to the nearest labour office in the regions, or to the police if the case does warrant police intervention, so that appropriate action is taken to rectify the abusive situations.

Of the 3000 cases reported last year, the majority of them, which is about 2344 cases, have been settled. There were 135 compliance orders issued, while 205 cases were referred to the Office of the Labour Commissioner. The ministry carried out 520 workplace inspections countrywide throughout the same year.

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