Monday, 20 July 2009

Unionise the ICT / Data workers of Namibia

Employees and their Unions
Workers are often unskilled, semi-literate and the working conditions allow for very little opportunity to become informed of their rights. Because of the nature of our independence struggle, most workers are however aware that the unions, through their affiliation to SWAPO, are an intimidating bargainer to employers.

The worker in Namibia, who pays his or her membership dues, expects protection, better pay, better working conditions, more benefits and a sense of belonging.

IT Workers
In the modern world the distinction between white-collar and blue-collar workers are not the same as they used to be. This is particularly so in the Information Technology sector.

The IT sector was previously considered white-collar, in that many of the employees were working as software engineers and programmers. Today, many of the IT workers are busy with the backbone or infrastructure as well as the data input and manipulation.

The sector needs to become organised into an ICT Employers Federation and an ICT Workers Union. Such a Union must ensure educational standards, professional qualifications and be able to publish regular industry wage and salary scales.

Most employers would argue that a unionised workforce is not desirable. Through my experience while working as secretary for the ICT Alliance, I have learnt to differ.

An organisation such as the ICT Alliance is representing the Namibian employers in the field. They, as volunteers, have the interest of their Namibian company or institution at heart and are a lobby group for further Namibianisation of the industry. In the tri-partite labour environment we have in Namibia, they therefore represent the employers of Namibian owned companies.

The data workers need to become organised as they are not only negotiating with Namibian companies, but more and more with international technology firms. As a Union they must:
• be able to negotiate from a position of strength;
• ensure standards of qualifications;
• inform members of innovations and technology updates; and
• provide health and pension plans.

Organised labour is a must if we want to improve the economy of our country.

Unions today
The Union movement in Namibia has seen many changes since Independence. The functionaries are becoming associated more closely with the SWAPO party, many are also on the election list. In addition, the Namibia Union of National is becoming a profitable business.

The following from the website of Bank Windhoek:
“Nam-mic Financial Services Holdings (NFS) is the Group’s strategic empowerment partner. NFS holds investments in Capricorn Investment Holdings (7%), Welwitschia Nam-mic Insurance Brokers (20%), Consolidated Financial Services (5%), Capricorn Life Assurance Company (25%), Santam Namibia (10%) and Corporate Benefit Consulting (35%). The NFS subsidiary company, Nam-mic Financial Solutions offers micro finance to union members in partnership with Bank Windhoek.

... The remainder of 72.5% (of shares in NFS) is held directly or indirectly through investment companies of the National Union of Namibian workers, Mineworkers Union of Namibia, Namibia Public Workers Union, Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union, Namibia National Teachers Union, Namibia Farm Workers Union and the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers Union.”

As for Nam-mic Financial Solutions – the micro-lender:
“Alacrity will hold a 35% stake in the company, while the balance will be controlled by the people of Namibia through the shareholdings of Nam-mic Investment Holding Company (35%), Namibian Public Worker's Union (20%) and Namibian Food and Allied Worker's Union (10%).”

These are a betrayal of the labour union movement ideals and can constitute a real danger to their continued existence. After all, who now represents the employees of these businesses in wage negotiations?

There must be a clear differentiation of the activities of unions and the use of union funds to purchase and manage business.