Namibia: Workers Struggle With Slave Wages

BERTHA Ananias (31) has been working as a shop assistant in Windhoek for two years and earning N$1 000 per month.

She rents a shack for N$550 in Havana, one of the many informal settlements in Katutura.

After paying rent, Ananias pays anything between N$100 and N$120 for water a month. There is no electricity where Ananias stays, so she uses gas.

She needs about N$400 for basics such as sugar, maize meal, bathing soap, roll-on and body lotion per month.

For transport to work, Ananias spends N$560 per month, while her sister, who is in Grade 11, needs N$400 per month.

"My sister sometimes gets a lift from school friends, and that N$10 is then saved for another day," Ananias said.

Sometimes, Ananias said she borrows from other people since her needs outstrip her salary.

"I only get Sunday off. If it is tough that month, I'll do people's hair for much cheaper than what saloons charge. That helps a lot," she explained.

If she could get anything between N$3 500 and N$4 000, she could be better off, she added.

She recalled when she worked as a teller, and served people spending more than N$2 000 on food items.

"I am not saying I want to be eating hotel food all the time, but at least I should not go a whole two months without buying chicken," she observed.

Another shop attendant, who wanted to be known only as Ndina, said she also earns N$1 000 per month.

Ndina (36), said she commutes from the Havana informal settlement to the city centre, and then walks to Maerua Mall, where she works.

From the N$1 000, she pays N$600 rent for her shack, and N$300 for her daughter's school and transport fare.

The remaining N$100 is not enough for food, and Ndina said she either has to turn to friends or loan sharks.

Ananias and Ndina, who earn N$1 000 per month, can be considered better off because other shop attendants earn less.

One such shop attendant, who did not want to be named, is a mother of four who just got a job which pays N$800 a month.

The 40-year-old said she took up the job after losing another which paid her N$1 500 when the Chinese owner closed down and returned to his country.

The attendant said she sends the whole N$800 to the village in the north, where her children are staying. Fortunately for her, her husband provides N$300 for her transport to work.

"My husband at least pays the caretaker N$1 200," she said, adding that in the past, she would buy toiletries for the caretaker.

With the N$800 now, she does not know how she will manage to do this.

"The N$800 is very little. I don't even think I will continue working here after the end of this month," she lamented.

These women are among 33% of workers who, according to the Namibia Statistics Agency (NSA) 2017 Namibia Financial Inclusion Survey (NFIS), earn N$1 000 a month.

However, the report stated that the 33% is slightly less than the 36% recorded during the 2011 survey.

The report, which was launched on Monday in Windhoek in collaboration with the Bank of Namibia and FinMark Trust, showed that 9,7% of Namibians earned more than N$11 000 a month.

The survey recorded total primary sampling units of 151 from all the 14 regions, and 2 114 households were drawn from them, constituting the sample size.

The total eligible population is estimated to be 573 932 households, comprising 1,46 million people.

According to the survey, about 47% find it very difficult to manage their finances, while 40,2% never make their monthly income last to the next payday.

Statistician general Alex Shimuafeni said according to the survey, 78% of Namibians were financially included, while 22% were excluded in 2017.

He added that the NFIS shows that 62,5% of income-earners receive their income as hard cash, while 37,1% receive income through a bank account, and only 1,4% (20 568) reported receiving income through bank wallets.

"As reported in 2011, the majority of the eligible population (525 185) earn up to N$1 000 per month," he stated.

Regarding being in debt, the survey showed that a vast majority of the respondents, roughly 82% of the eligible population, avoid getting into debt if they can.

Bank of Namibia governor Ipumbu Shiimi explained that this is because the majority of Namibians earn less than N$1 000 or close to that figure, hence their access to loans or borrowing is low.

He said this is because they have no access to credit because their salaries cannot allow it, unlike those who earn higher salaries.

Roughly 58% of Namibians surveyed said they do not borrow money, while approximately 13% borrowed from banks, and 18% from friends and relatives.

The 95,1% of Namibians who don't borrow money claimed that they fear debt, and thus avoid borrowing. According to the survey, debt levels in the country are low.

Figures provided by the NSA's Household Income and Expenditure Survey (NHIES) 2015/2016 report show that although poverty further decreased during the last five years, inequality in Namibia is high, although illustrating a mild downward trend.

The report added that the overall poverty levels were reduced significantly with 10,7 percentage points (from 28,7% to 18%), while inequality in income distribution remains high, with a slight reduction of 2,5% points from the 2009/10 survey to the 2015/16 survey.

Labour expert Herbert Jauch called for the introduction of a basic living wage, whereby households are paid a wage that allows them to live a descent life. He further stressed that many households cannot live off one wage alone and should work on acquiring other sources of income, otherwise many households would be stuck in poverty. He stressed that many sectors in the country are still paying their workers low wages, which makes it impossible for people to survive a full month without being drawn in a web of debts.

"A labour force survey conducted in 2016 revealed that 80% of Namibians earn less than N$5 000 a month and now we see the 33% figure of Namibians who earn less than N$1 000 a month, telling us that many Namibians are still earning these low wages. These low wages spread across all sectors in Namibia, with the exception of a select few such as the public sector. However, we cannot call for a minimum wage because some companies paying their employees more than a minimum wage may decide to decrease the salaries of these workers, hence putting more financial pressure on them," he said.

Lawyer Uno Katjipuka-Sibolile told The Namibian yesterday that people working Sunday to Sunday for N$1 000, N$800 and N$600, respectively, can only amount to slavery.

"The little they get, they have to spend on transport to and from work, and to pay for a roof over their head," she said.

She added that looking at overtime regulations in the Labour Act, it is evident that there are a lot of labour law violations happening to people paid those amounts.

It is a violation of a person's right to dignity, Katjipuka-Sibolile stressed, and urged those working under such conditions to organise themselves and collectively demand better pay from their employers.

If that does not work, they should complain to the labour commissioner, she advised.

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