Namibia: COVID-19 Could Significantly Increase Unemployment - Shinguadja

24 March 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic, which is wreaking havoc across the globe, has the potential to significantly increase Namibia's unemployment as it is no longer a health crisis but an economic, labour market and social crisis too. This is according to Executive Director in the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation Bro-Matthew Shinguadja, who confirmed that several businesses have already experienced several disruptions, from their production throughout to their supply chains and customers.

"The tourism industry, retailers, and food and service sectors are experiencing a drop in sales due to consumers staying away in an effort to contain the Covid-19. This is likely to result in unemployment as some businesses may resort to laying off their workers while some may completely close down," said Shinguadja in response to questions by New Era.

He added that the impact the pandemic will have on Namibia when it comes to labour market is mainly job losses, if not contained immediately. In addition, restrictions on public gatherings for instance, have a negative impact in terms of those who are self-employed and depend on such gatherings.

"Some businesses will be struggling to get back on their feet. If the virus is not contained soon, the Namibian economy as well as other economies will slip into a recession. Signs are already emerging even from biggest economies," Shinguadja stated.

The labour ministry has urged on all employers and employees to ensure they take the necessary precautionary measures to prevent the risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 at the workplace in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines and Ministry of Health and Social Services advice.

The labour ministry is also advising employees and employers to ensure that precautionary measures include ensuring that the work environment is kept clean and hygienic at all times and disinfectants and sanitisers are accessible to employees, customers and visitors or any other persons who may come into the workplace for what good reason.

"Employees have an obligation to request employers to put the necessary measures in place to ensure that they minimise the risk of contracting or spreading the virus," Shinguadja added.

The executive director continue that economic growth generates new jobs but cautioned that if economic activities around the country continue to slow down, job losses will occur and the economy will continue to shrink.

Said Shinguadja; "The hospitality industry (restaurants, lodges, tour operators, etc.), due to its nature of work, is exposed to customers or visitors. Such establishments should exercise appropriate hygienic methods by providing sanitisers, protective equipment such as gloves and masks to all staff, customers or visitors; urge guests to practice hygiene; amongst others, require or have full contact details of guests; adopt and implement WHO Guidelines on Workplace. Staff members of these facilities or any other leisure establishments should also be trained on appropriate infection, prevention and control measures of Covid-19". He also noted that the hospitality industry should be mindful of the recent Cabinet directive that "all leisure, business and social travels like tourists is suspended".

Meanwhile, relatively new Secretary General of the Namibian Employers Federation (NEF), Daan Strauss, pointed out that the Covid-19 situation is dynamic and changes by the hour, therefore making it extremely difficult to forecast the economic impact of the virus on employment figures at this point in time. However, Strauss is sure there will be a very negative impact, especially in the tourism sector and this ripple effect will be felt by the rest of the economy.

"The impact of Covid-19 on the economy will be significant, but facts and figures are simply not available at this stage and to avoid the risk of creating panic. I am of the opinion that forecasts should not be made at this point in time," said Strauss.

From an employment perspective, the NEF encourages all its members to use retrenchments as a last option. "The situation that now transpires is two-fold; Businesses suffer economically as a result of the lockdowns and cannot continue to afford the usual overhead costs; and staff want to stay away from an unhealthy workplace," Strauss stated. The NEF also advised employers consult the Labour Act which advises on a due consultative processes between management and staff before decisions are taken on retrenchments.

Meanwhile, the NEF distributed a Business Continuity Management Plan format on Covid-19 as received from the International Labour Organisation as well as a short video on preventative measures to avoid contracting the virus to all its members to help to mitigate the current situation.

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