Labour Commissioner Bro-Mathew Shingwadja ordered the construction company Standtoll Properties cc, which is owned by northern-based businessman Ben Zaaruka, to pay close to N$300 000 to former and current employees. The workers were underpaid while working at mass housing construction sites contracted to Standtoll Properties in Oshakati.
The Labour Court agreed with the workers who approached the court with grievances of being paid wages below the minimum wage stipulated by the Labour Act.
“The respondent Standtoll Properties cc has committed an act of unfair labour practice, in that it unilaterally changed the minimum wage of labourers in contravention of the collective agreement prevailing in the construction industry of Namibia. Therefore, the full total amount due and payable is N$281 494.94,” reads the court papers.
Zaaruka confirmed to the court that his employees were paid a minimum wage lower than that stipulated by the Labour Act, but argued that the employees were trainees and had not reached the required productivity level as stated in the Labour Act.
The court challenge was brought by 181 employees of Standtoll Properties, through the Namibia Building Workers Union (Nabwu) secretary general Victor Hamunyela.
Initially Nabwu demanded that Standtoll Properties pay about N$507 000, which according to the union is owed to all 181 workers who had been paid below the minimum wage. However, Shingwadja only ruled in favour of 90 employees. The other 91 employees were found not to have sufficient evidence they were underpaid.
Last year, 181 workers, including bricklayers, general workers and welders took Standtoll Properties to the Labour Court, after the conciliation efforts between their union and employer failed.
The workers claimed they were employed on a fixed term contract since March 2014 to construct houses at Ekuku, a project under the national mass housing scheme.
The applicants claimed that Standtoll Properties had not been paying them in accordance with the gazetted minimum wage.
Israel Shikalepo, former employee of Standtoll Properties, who is now unemployed, testified in court that initially he was promised a wage of N$20.80 per hour, which was later reduced to N$14.50 per hour.
“The witness testified that when he inquired as to why he was paid less he was told that he was not qualified for that amount as the productivity levels were not achieved. He further averred that Mr Zaaruka told him that he (Zaaruka) was not concerned with paper qualifications but the actual productivity levels,” reads court documents.
Fillemon Naitwa who testified in Standtoll Properties’ favour, told the court that he had 45 bricklayers for Standtoll Properties. Naitwa claimed to have worked for Zaaruka for the past 15 years and his hourly rate stood at N$15.50.
“We are very happy that a ruling was made that Zaaruka was underpaying the employees under a ploy of under-productivity and we do appreciate the labour commissioner’s efforts to recognise that the treatment toward these employees was not good and they were underpaid. But Shingwadja made an error when he ruled in favour of only 90 employees and his basis was that there was no evidence led for the other employees,” said Hamunyela.
Courtesy New Era