January 16, 2015, 11:31am
Media, mines declared essential service
THE Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare has sent shock waves through especially the media and mining industries, after an announcement that these and other services could be classified as essential services soon.
Should this plan go through, it will have far-reaching implications for the industrial action which workers in these industries may embark on.
What is of particular concern, say some media practitioners, is that the matter seems to have been sneaked in with the deadline for submissions on the intended classifications having been yesterday.
Other services earmarked for classification as essential are court services, railway transportation services and air traffic control services.
In a strongly worded letter, Tangeni Amupadhi,
the editor of The Namibian, informed the chairperson of the essential services committee, John Kwedhi, that this newspaper and its mother company, The Free Press of Namibia, object to the classification of media services as essential services.
Veteran journalist Da'oud Vries, who is currently attached to the Namibian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), did not mince his words when approached for comment yesterday. “Firstly, the deadline given for written submissions and oral presentations is too short for such an important and culture changing provision.”
Moreover, Vries said, his “understanding of essential services are those that deal with the protection of life, health and safety of people. On the basis of this, I ask myself the question, what media services have to do with the protection of life, health and safety of people, apart from reporting about these?”
Dani Booysen, the editor of Republikein in the Namibia Media Holdings (NMH) stable, echoed Vries' sentiments, saying that services are only essential if lives and property are threatened.
Booysen said the stance of the Editors' Forum of Namibia is that it will not prescribe to individual media institutions what they need to do.
However, media services do not constitute essential services in terms of the Labour Act. As a result, the editors' organisation does not support this move because of the limitations it imposes on people's rights to withdraw their labour in the event of a dispute.
Although information is essential during certain instances, its transfer can still be effected during industrial action with the help of key staff, Booysen said.
The Mineworkers' Union of Namibia (MUN) also expressed concern about the intended move. “The MUN is not in favour of mining operations being declared essential services in the current context because it is a fundamental right of employees to withhold their labour in terms of the Namibian Constitution. If this right is abrogated, it will severely undermine the bargaining power of the trade union and ultimately the livelihood of the vulnerable miners, thus it would increase poverty and deliberate exploitation within the mining communities.”
Vries says the only advantage he foresees is that when there is a deadlock, the dispute would be subject to arbitration, without workers going on strike or employers locking out employees.
“I actually hope for the day when employers and employees resolve their disputes without lockouts or strikes but through a negotiated settlement,” Vries said. Before slamming down the phone, Kwedhi said he was not government's spokesperson and would not provide more information.
Doreen Sioka, the Minister of Labour and Social Welfare, yesterday afternoon said she had just received unrelated bad news and was thus not in a position to respond to questions because she was “not well”.
By Denver Kisting The Namibian