Namibia: New Union for Informal Sector Workers

THOUSANDS of people working in the informal sector will now have a voice after the formation of the Namibia Informal Traders and Shebeen Workers Union.

The union registered with the labour commissioner last year, and held its first press conference in Windhoek yesterday.

Speaking at the briefing, the union's secretary general Stefanus Matheus said they already have more than 1 000 members drawn from those working in bars, corner shops, salons, printing shops and car washes. He said they are aware that most of their members are underpaid and work under poor conditions.

Some of these poor working conditions, Matheus said, was that the union's members are forced to work during holidays and on Sundays without compensation.

The union will thus carry out campaigns at workplaces for the implementation of better policies to benefit their members.

He furthermore stated that the country faces significant economic challenges.

"We all know that there will be employers who will hide behind this uncertainty, who will use it as an excuse to cut terms and conditions. But it is our job as trade unionists to take them on by challenging their plans, and to negotiate a better deal," Matheus noted.

He added: "I believe that negotiation and consultation is the best way to get dignity and respect for our members."

The union's deputy secretary general, Prince Junias, said they support the Office of the Labour Commissioner in looking for alternative ways on how to solve disputes between workers and employers.

Junias said as a union, they were able to solve three cases without having to file them with the Office of the Labour Commissioner. Only one case has so far been filed with the labour commissioner's office. One of their members, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said she had joined the union last year for them to help her whenever she has problems with her employers.

In some cases, the employers ignore her, especially when she demands an increase in salary, she added.

The Namibian spoke to various street vendors in Windhoek yesterday, and one of them said: "I wouldn't mind joining the union. However, they would need to prove that it is not a scam."

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