|Labour brokers created unequal playing field|
|Written by Floris Steenkamp|
|Wednesday, 08 August 2012 21:12|
SOME stakeholders in Walvis Bay’s fishing industry were battling it out this week to come to grips with the implications of the new amendment to the Labour Act of 2007 that came into force on 1 August.The Act requires all industries to pay and treat temporary workers on the same terms as their permanent staff and in some instances firms have been obliged to employ temporary staff on a permanent basis.
Informanté conducted widespread interviews with stakeholders in the local fishing industry of Walvis Bay since the new amendment act came into force. The common sentiment is that those fish producers who were exploiting the labour broking system for cheap labour must now bear the consequences. Some companies are now engaged in feverish negotiations to permanently employ their temporary work force, while others have already resorted to temporary contracts in order to buy precious time while they try to figure out how to respond to the new regulations.
One leading figure in the industry spoke to Informanté on the issue, on condition of anonymity, as the fishing industry traditionally refrains from making public comments or statements on new laws, regulations or conditions imposed by the government.
“I blame labour brokers, government and many industries in Namibia for the predicament today,” said this captain of industry,” explaining that labour brokers blatantly exploit the country’s poor and desperate masses, adding that government allowed the matter to deteriorate to the extent where drastic legal intervention was needed. Industries have also made it part of their business strategy to use labour brokers as a way to save on salary bills.
“If everyone was serious over the years not to exploit the country’s pool of poor and jobless, we would not have had this problem today,” he said. He suggests that government could have simply told labour brokers to pay temporary workers 25 % more per hour and whatever percentage commission would be left for negotiation between the labour broker and the client “in the true spirit of free enterprise.”
This stakeholder said his fishing company always maintained a permanent work-force, both sea-going and on-land, and has contracts in place for temporary workers who relieve sea-going personnel when they are on leave, dismissed or absent due to ill health or for any other personal reasons.
“These relief workers are paid the same as the sea-going personnel, enjoy the same remuneration structures and they have certainty through their contracts with us,” he explained, adding that temporary employees negotiate with the company without the involvement of labour brokers.
It is common knowledge that fish producers have in the past used labour brokers to save costs, but temporary workers should ideally only serve the purpose of relief employment or during spikes in production cycles. Employers must also be willing to pay drastically more for temporary employment during these peak times. Instead temporary workers were exploited as a substitute for permanent employees.
Labour brokers would, for instance, charge the company N$14 per hour, from which a commission fee is subtracted. With a single phone call a client could also compel a labour broker to remove workers from company premises, “Like animals... We cannot blame the masses or government demanding better treatment of the poor. Those who have to scramble now to transform their temporary work-force into a permanent work-force and budget for drastic increases in their monthly salary bills, are reaping the fruits of years of unwillingness to understand the importance of creating a permanent work-force for Namibia,” the industry leader opined.