26 June 2019

Namibia: Health Extension Workers' Case Drags On

A meeting between unemployed health extension workers and legal representatives from the ministry of health held in Windhoek last Wednesday to resolve issues, was postponed to 10 July.

During the first stage of the 'Dispute of rights', the ministry requested that the conciliation talks be postponed to allow them to review the evidence.

The two parties will meet next month to conclude the conciliation, and potentially move into arbitration.

According to the health extension workers' spokesperson, Willem Kayongo, the ministry's legal team not only requested time to review the group's evidence, but they also attempted to remove their legal counsel.

"The two lawyers representing the government were against the presence of a person who was representing us. However, it was cast out, and then due to some inconveniences, the meeting was postponed to the 10th of next month," he explained. Daniel Higoam, another member of the workers' group, said the ministry argued that the group were not members of the Public Service Union of Namibia (PSUN).

"They did not want him to represent us because, according to them, we are not members of the labour union, so he had no reason to represent us," he said. "But they were told that we are members because we are on the books."

According to Kayongo, the ministry's attempt to claim that the workers are not members of the union is baseless as he and the other 647 unemployed persons are PSUN members, despite not being able to pay subscriptions.

"We are already members. We joined a long time ago, and some joined last year. The only thing is that they [ministry] are the ones holding our salaries, so the union cannot deduct their fees. That's what really matters there," he stressed.

This meeting comes after many attempts by the group of health extension workers from various regions of the country to communicate with the ministry on its failure to employ them upon completion of their training programmes.

The Namibian has earlier reported that the health ministry had shelved plans to employ the health extension graduates due to financial constraints after promising them jobs and admitting a staff shortage.

The group held their first peaceful demonstration in 2017, and have since handed over numerous petitions to the ministry, Kayongo added. He said they received no responses, until they decided to explore the legal route.

"Since we went through different consultation processes with the ministry, we never received any fruitful response, and we decided to take another step to sit and resolve the matter in a peaceful and fair way," he continued. The PSUN sent the first notice to commence legal proceedings to the Office of the Prime Minister in February this year.

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