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General Services fight not to be classified: Essential

Speaking to chair members of the Essential Services Committee, the chairperson, Mr John Kwedi (right) explains the mandate of his committee. He is assisted by leading local HR expert, Dr Johan van Rooyen. (Photograph by Ibilola Odunlami)

An investigation facilitated by the Essential Services Committee, a standing committee of the Labour Advisory Council, has recommended that five more general services be designated as essential services. The Essential Services Committee is a statutory body functioning under the Labour Act, with the mandate to recommend the designation of essential services to the council, to investigate disputes as to whether an employer or employee is engaged in an essential service, and to make recommendations to the council in this regard. An investigation has been opened on railway transportation, courts, mining operations and air traffic control services, proposing that they, along with the media, be declared essential services. The current recommendation has been received with some shock by various stakeholders operating in these services.

Most of them are against the proposal of being declared essential, and are asking for an extension to make their submissions concerning their respective field of services. This confusion followed an application by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting to the Ministry of Labour requesting the service of the NBC to be declared essential, after a strike at the NBC in 2013. According to Mr John Kwedhi, chairperson at the Essential Services Committee and secretary general of the Namibian Transport and Allied Worker’s Union, the application was rejected by the ministry and referred to the committee. Dani Booysen, speaking on behalf of Namibia Media Holdings, requested an extension for the submission date. He also voiced that in principal, the media has constitutional rights, such as the freedom of association, and through those rights, the media can organise its labour and have it withdrawn in case of a dispute. He stated that these rights should not be taken away in any manner. Presenting a statement by the chief executive officer of Namibia Media Holdings, Booysen argued that “in certain instances, the media will become an essential service. But that does not mean 24/7 every day of the year. [For example], if there is a disease outbreak in the country the media must realise that during such an instance, they are an essential service and must be available to communicate very important information to the public.” He further stated that as far as the media is concerned, the committee must consult on very specific situations where the media does become an essential service and those situations must be outlined. Questioning the intent of the investigation, John Ndeutepo, regional chair member at the Mineworker’s Union of Namibia, said the problem was not the submission date, but requested that the investigation be removed completely. He stated that if anybody wants to make a submission regarding these five industries, they are free to do so, and should have a separate process to address that. Ndeutepo added, “[the investigation] is nonsensical; the areas identified here do not speak to the requirements of the act in terms of health and life”. He later asked Kwedhi whether the committee intends to replace the essential services agreements already in place between employers and employees adding that “the act is very clear; if it doesn’t affect the life or health of a person, then it is not an essential service. But there are agreements between employers and their employees as to which areas are agreed upon as essential services. In some of these areas, it’s not because they threaten somebody’s life or health, but because it is of very significant economic interest to ensure that they still have business tomorrow”. Kwedhi emphasised that currently, this is merely an investigation and that a definitive decision has not yet been made. The committee serves not to initiate the process, but to facilitate it, he pointed out. Stakeholders at the meeting indicated they are likely to seek clarity from the Labour Advisory Council.

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