Dr Felix Musukubili: On labour dispute resolution in Namibia

August 1, 2014, 9:14am


On labour dispute resolution in Namibia

Despite being born at the Sangwali village in the Zambezi Region, Dr. Felix Zingolo Musukubili never imagined in his wildest dream that he would one day  become a Doctor of Laws (Labour Law), he is, thus transforming his life into a class of the much sought after knowledge generators. As the Director for Labour Services at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, he can look back with pride turning challenges into opportunities.

Like most youngsters, Musukubili tried out different career paths until he developed a passion for labour related studies and he never looked back.  After completing his matric in 1992, he got an opportunity to study in South Africa however, funding stood in his way.

Undeterred in 1994 he enrolled at Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN) to study Nature Conservation, but, he was again faced with challenges of funding and dropped out in the middle of the year.

That same year, Musukubili joined the Namibian Police Force as he desperately needed a job. He worked there for six years and was promoted to rank of a sergeant to the position of a training officer for Oshana (then combined northern regions). While working for the Police Force, Musukubili obtained his first three year Police Science Diploma from the PoN.

After that he then joined the Ministry of Labour as a labour inspector in Grootfontein where he only worked for a month and was then promoted to the labour commissioner’s office as a control labour relations officer responsible for conciliation and mediation of labour disputes.

Shortly after that Musukubili was sent by the Ministry to the University of Namibia (Unam) where he did a post graduate diploma in Law.

His career path began to look up as he moved to Etale Fishing as a Human Resource Manager, where he worked for three years before returning to the Ministry as Deputy Director of labour services. While working at Etale he was also sent to Stellenbosch to do a Senior Management Program.

Musukubili went on to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Labour Relations from the University of South Africa.  He is also a proud holder of a Masters’ Degree in Labour law from the University of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan where he also obtained his doctorate.

According to Musukubili, the reason why he chose to pursue a career in labour is that Namibia lacks specialization in this particular discipline. Hence, he aims to contribute to Namibia socio-economic development and industrial stability through his expert knowledge in labour dispute resolution.   

“This country requires specialized skills in various fields by citizens to minimize reliance on expatriates. As a young nation we need to develop the required skills and the right knowledge and experience to help drive this country to the realization of Vision 2013,” he advises.

However, he says the skills and knowledge he has acquired while doing other work is just as useful in his current role.

“In the Police force I did capacity building of members, with labour it is more on dispute prevention and resolution and as a human resources manager, my focus was on creating harmonious labour relations at the workplace through the provision of effective and efficient human resources practices and system. My HR experience has been helpful in my current portfolio when I have to send out labour inspectors to carry workplace profiles or inspections, because i knew precisely what was happening there and what is expected of them,” he explains.

He added that his position of the Director of Labour Services is very important as the directorate is a custodian of the Labour Act 11 of 2007. The Act creates duties, rights and obligations of the employers and the employees. The Directorate thus ensures that sound labour relations prevail at workplaces leaving the country with potential to attract investors as a result of industrial peace in the country and thereby creating the much needed employment.

“The environment in which business is done in this country should be peaceful, there should be industrial peace so it won’t scare investors and equally if there is a robust enforcement and awareness creation, harmonious labour relations will prevail,” says Musukubili

He added that it is vital for the directorate to ensure that the country moves towards Vision2030 with laws that are responsive to the working needs of the societies. He also said that the directorate is there to enforce and preserve employment rights and promote understanding and respect between employers and employees.

The directorate which has the staff compliment of 86 officials also ensures that there is compliance to the conditions of employment, health and safety and wealth of all employees.  To this end the directorate is divided in two sections; the inspectorate and the occupational health and safety. The inspectorate is required to attend to and resolve complaints, unresolved cases are referred to the labour commissioner for conciliation and arbitration.

“As a directorate, we have mandate to visit various workplaces to inspect or examine compliance of employers’ terms and conditions of employment relative to the provisions of the Labour Act such as payment of remuneration, hours of work, leave, and disciplinary policies. Any contravention is sanctioned by compliance orders,” he adds.

The inspections range from normal routine to follow-up and surprise inspections are done where suspicions of non-compliance are raised. As for the Occupational Health and Safety division ensures that there are sound standards that do not pose risks to the employees. Every employer is obligated to report on all forms of accidents, to show whether or not there is a degree of negligence from the employer or employee.

“So in a nutshell, ultimately, we want to contribute to the industrial peace of the country,” he stresses.

According to Musukubili, even if the directorate raises awareness, however, some employers still remain ignorant. He said most of them do not take time to familiarize themselves with the fact that their obligation rises from the legislation.

“There are still some workplaces in Namibia , although isolated,  where some employers still have colonial tendencies in a democratic Namibia with fundamental labour rights by not respecting their employees labour rights and taking them for production tools,” he says.

He added the input of cases reported daily and making up weekly, monthly and quarterly statistics are indicators of employers’ and employees’ understanding of what it expected of them. As part of engaging with the stakeholders and for greater publicity, the directorate runs a live programme on the National Radio aired on Tuesdays(18:00) where specific topics of the Labour Act are discussed.

Different material regarding labour laws have also been translated in indigenous languages of Namibia for the ordinary persons to understand.  This keen writer has also published articles to make information accessible to the public.

The first article titled “Towards an efficient labour dispute resolution, was part of his PhD requirement to share knowledge. The article was the outcome of his study which looked at comparing the Namibian labour dispute resolution and that of South Africa.

“The study established a lot of gabs, of which Namibia could learn from South Africa and vice versa to improve the current failing labour dispute resolution system,” he says.

He added that Namibia moved from the old system of dispute resolution by the district courts to internalising it within the Ministry under the Labour Commissioner’s Office. This should have made it possible for the disputes to be resolved in a faster and efficient manner, without delay and unnecessary costs.

Musukubili’s second article was a descriptive article on how the Namibian dispute resolution went to a transition up to where it is now. He said this module was to a context as to how the current labour dispute resolution has evolved.

After seeing that the country was plagued with strikes by employees, Musukubili wrote another advisory article on meaningful collective bargaining.  This enables the parties to negotiate in good faith in doing so they minimize the chances of parties embarking on unnecessary industrial action like a strike or lockout.

In the same context, he published another article on determining essential services in Namibia. He explained that not every workplace or employee in Namibia can go on strikeas there are limitations and exceptions.

“There were many applications received by the ministry in terms of declaring them essential services so I wrote an article to let the employees know in what category do they fall, if they can they strike or not. If they cannot strike it does not mean that the law precludes their right to strike but there are other mechanisms to resolve their dispute,” he further explains.

The most recent article published by Musukubili addresses obligations on the parties to respect occupational health and safety, to be careful of what diseases can be acquired at workplaces, causes and also to differentiate between occupational diseases that arise as result of exposure hazardous work as opposed to working in a very healthy environment.

He is currently working on other articles as well as a book dedicated to the Namibian labour dispute resolution which is in its final stages to be published. He however cautions that it is challenging to deal with cases where people lose their jobs, and when they come to the directorate expecting to be either reinstated or paid sufficiently to cater for their needs until they find other employment.

However, he said it is exciting to begin to understand the forces of the labour market as well as to deal with different people and different sectors of the economy.

Musukubili said although he is committed to continue working for the government, he would like to become a specialist labour lawyer once he completes his outstanding LLB modules with UNISA and eventually enroll with the Justice Training Centre (JTC) training. “Ultimately, I want to contribute to our judicial system in terms of labour dispute resolution,” he says.

According to Musukubili, he is proud of himself to have obtained his Doctorate while expressing his gratitude to the Government for the assistance with a scholarship.

As for steps up his career, he said he is aspiring to be on the top, “Hopefully I will get to the level feel like I am satisfied. But I am grateful I got a good job, but eventually with time and with patience I will get to the top of my career, patience is a virtue as such the snail managed to get into the ark” he says.

He says that his great inspiration came from the determination of the founding father Sam Nujoma who got his Masters’ degree ‘late’ age.

“It tells you that you can never use age as a barrier to be educated and anybody can be educated. So I am inspired by our leaders like the founding father and he is also highly acknowledged in my study, so with that kind of inspiration there is no excuse not to be educated,” he says.

“I want to contribute to having a functional system to resolve dispute as quickly and without allowing disputes to drag on unnecessary. I will do so in my current position and also as an academic with lecturing participation in the Law Faculty of the University of Namibia and to continue publishing academic materials to inform the readership,” he concludes.

By Truly Xamises for Prime Focus