Namibia
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Labour inspectors accused of colluding with employers for personal gain

Labour consultant John Saunderson has expressed deep concern over the alleged conduct of government labour inspectors who allegedly prioritise employers’ interests over employees’ complaints, in exchange for personal gain.

According to Saunderson, admin officers have found a way to exploit their positions.

“Often, the admin office is the first point of contact for employees. But, the admin officers have developed an aptitude for seizing the opportunity, as a side hustle, to demoralise and demotivate applicants,” Saunderson said.

He said the issue extends beyond the admin office, as arbitrators themselves have been implicated in participating in acts detrimental to applicants.

Saunderson said he has encountered complaints in which arbitrators denied applicants proper representation and even resorted to bullying during conciliations and arbitrations in collaboration with employers.

“You find that judges often speak out in their judgements on the pathetic decisions of arbitrators in the Office of the Labour Commissioner, and refer cases back to the (labour) commissioner.”

“Even the remarks of judges are not taken heed of, and arbitrators continue to drag cases along for years and years until the applicant can no longer afford representation, or out of frustration end up abandoning cases,” Saunderson said.

As of December 2022, there were 735 pending disputes registered with the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation. During the period from 2020 to 2022, the labour ministry received over 16 560 labour disputes.

Saunderson said authorities need to take concrete steps to discipline officials who breach the code of ethics.

“Use the code of ethics for conciliators and arbitrators to discipline them.

The Office of the Labour Commissioner should be willing to take such steps.

In addition, take the public’s complaints of failing arbitrators and inspectors seriously,” Saunderson said.

He emphasised the necessity of training key staff members, including inspectors and arbitrators, in human rights instruments prescribed by the International Labour Organisation.

NO REPORTS MADE

Labour ministry acting executive director Otniel Podewiltz said the allegations against admin officers and arbitrators have not been brought to their attention or officially reported.

If such incidents are reported, they will respond promptly and take swift action, he said.

“The Office of the Labour Commissioner and the ministry at large uphold a strong stance against unethical behaviour, and any instances of such conduct among employees, including civil servants in Namibia, will not be condoned,” he said.

No person should experience intimidation or threats while exercising this right and seeking resolution for their disputes, he added.

“The role of arbitrators demands strict impartiality during the process of conciliation and arbitration, refraining from taking any sides with either party,” Podewiltz said.