2008-09-29 12:12:00
Embassy Windhoek
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DE RUEHWD #0302/01 2731212
P 291212Z SEP 08



E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Dennise Mathieu for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)

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E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/29/2018

Classified By: Ambassador Dennise Mathieu for reasons 1.4 (B) and (D)

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1. (C) Namibia's leading labor union federation, the National
Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW),has long argued that its
close relationship with the ruling South West African
People's Organization (SWAPO) party ensures workers' concerns
are considered when the Namibian government (GRN) crafts and
implements economic policy. In practice, however, the
NUNW-SWAPO alliance has served to siphon off NUNW's old guard
into plum GRN and state-owned company jobs, while
compromising the federation's independence. A recent NUNW
organized strike at TransNamib (the state-owned rail company)
) to protest the suspension of TransNamib's CEO rather than
for higher wages or improved conditions ) illustrated NUNW's
confused priorities.

2. (C) Meanwhile, a new labor act, set to go into effect on
November 1, includes populist measures that restrict
employers' flexibility to hire and fire workers, which could
actually exacerbate Namibia's 37 percent unemployment rate.
There is also increasing frustration amongst Namibian
employers and workers that the GRN overlooks Chinese
construction firms that illegally employ Chinese laborers and
seldom adhere to pay and safety standards on private and
government contracts. While NUNW continues to enter the
political fray, TUCNA, a new trade federation that emerged in
2002, is trying to supplant NUNW and restore workers, needs
to the forefront of the labor movement. Parallels between
South Africa's union involvement in populist politics and
what is happening in Namibia are not lost on Namibian
political analysts, but they argue there are differences as
well. End Summary.

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Who is Organized Labor in Namibia?
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3. (C) With 37 percent unemployment (according to a 2005
study) many Namibians struggle to find any kind of job.
Nevertheless, Namibia has long had an influential labor
movement. Today the movement is comprised of over 30 unions
most of which have allied themselves with one of two
federations: the National Union of Namibian Workers (NUNW) or
the Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA). NUNW, the older

and larger of the federations, has had links to the ruling
South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) party since
both were active in the struggle against South Africa's
apartheid regime. TUCNA, started in 2002, rejects any
political party affiliations. (Comment: As SWAPO dominates
Namibian politics, TUCNA's decision not to collaborate with
SWAPO is in fact a strong political statement. End Comment).
In some labor sectors, NUNW and TUCNA have parallel member
unions. In such cases, the union that has registered a
majority of a sector's workers is recognized as the sole
entity to represent workers, interests in collective

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Labor Leadership: A Ticket to the Big Leagues
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4. (C) A common critique of the NUNW-SWAPO alliance is that
it has led top NUNW leaders to leave their union positions
for senior jobs in the GRN or state-owned enterprises.
Ideally, this linkage should have made the GRN and
parastatals more attuned to labor's demands. But the Labor
Research and Resource Institute (LaRRI),a well respected
Namibian labor think tank, argues it has not. An obvious
side effect, LaRRI Director Hilma Hindondola told emboff, has
been a brain drain of well-educated labor advocates from
NUNW's senior ranks. Another related side effect is that it
has led the new generation of union leaders to see their
positions as merely a stepping stone to higher-paid and
higher-power government and parastatal jobs. According to
Hindondola, the placing of labor leaders into senior GRN
positions has served to co-opt the labor movement.
Hindondola argues that the GRN has purposefully cherry-picked
labor leaders to minimize organized labor's dissent.

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Many Conflicting Interests
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5. (C) TUCNA Acting Secretary General Mahongora Kavihuha
explained to emboff that NUNW-affiliated unions own shares in
public companies and NUNW leaders sit on the boards of many

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state-owned companies. Kavihuha argues these union leaders
have an inherent conflict of interest since they receive
compensation from these companies. LaRRI argues that NUNW
initially "invested" in companies as a mechanism to raise
revenues for their unions, but over time union leaders have
adopted the "profit maximizing" business perspective.

6. C) Although LaRRI was originally formed to help train
labor leaders in effective labor advocacy, Hindondola
recognizes that NUNW's close relationship with SWAPO has
compromised the federation's independence and diminished the
effectiveness of its labor advocacy. Hindondola remarked
that TUCNA has come to better represent workers' demands
because it stays out of politics. But TUCNA's Kavihuha
states that NUNW has tried to thwart TUCNA's advocacy. He
told emboff that even when a TUCNA-affiliated union qualifies
as the sole collective bargaining representative for a
particular labor sector, NUNW tries to muscle its way into
the negotiations. Furthermore, Kavihuha argues some workers
feel they must join NUNW because of its links to SWAPO, or
else the worker may suffer reprisals. He added that many
workers will join TUCNA secretively while they are openly
members of NUNW to maintain their pro-SWAPO credentials.

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Labor's Demands Subjugated to National Politics
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7. (C) Another common critique of NUNW is that its leaders
are increasingly involved in party and national politics that
are unrelated to labor's concerns. A recent six-day strike
at TransNamib (the state-owned rail company) illustrates how
internal SWAPO party politics has infringed on the NUNW's
labor advocacy role. In an unusual move, the NUNW-affiliated
Namibia Transport and Allied Union (NATAU) organized the
strike to protest the suspension of TransNamib CEO Titus
Haimbili. A newly appointed Board of Directors, in its first
meeting, had suspended Haimbili for alleged improprieties,
pending an investigation. Many observers argued that
Haimbili's suspension stemmed from an internal SWAPO party
conflict. In response, NUNW Secretary General Evilastus
Karronda accused Festus Lameck, the TransNamib Chairman who
oversaw Haimbili's suspension, of a conflict of interest and
misconduct. Minister of Transport and Public Works Helmut
Angula, who appointed Lameck, also came under fire from the
SWAPO Party Youth League SPYL). Both are seen by leaders of
the SPYL and NUNW as sympathetic to Hidipio Hamutenya, a
former senior SWAPO insider who recently formed his own
political party, the Rally for Democracy and Progress (RDP).

8. (C) The Labor District Court declared the TransNamib
strike illegal, arguing NATAU had not followed appropriate
procedures before initiating its action. The GRN estimates
the strike cost the country N$180 million (USD 22.5 million).
NATAU succeeded in getting Chairman Lameck suspended, but
NATAU President Dawid Tjombe admitted to emboff the strike
was not directly related to higher wages or better working
conditions. Deputy Labor Commissioner Shikongo told emboff
that in her 15 years at the Ministry of Labor she could not
recall a similar strike, and expressed dismay that NUNW would
use workers for an exclusively political battle

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How does the NUNW-SWAPO Relationship Help Workers?
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9. (C) Given the tight bond between NUNW and SWAPO, one would
expect Namibia to have a highly progressive system of labor
laws and benefits for its workers. In some cases it does,
but the alliance has failed to produce one of the most sought
after worker benefits: a national minimum wage. Only three
sectors enjoy such a benefit: construction, Security, and,
farm workers. In the delicate balance between worker's
rights and the needs of private enterprise, however,
Namibia's labor legislation tips heavily in favor of workers,
argues Tim Parkhouse, Secretary General of the Namibian
Employers Federation (NEF). NEF represents employers at the
tripartite Labor Advisory Council, the body that advises
Parliament on the drafting of labor legislation. The other
members of the Council include government and labor. This
tripartite group helped draft the 2007 Labor Act which is set
to go into effect November 1. The Act, which includes many
changes to Namibia's labor Code, has one significant
advantage over the previous code: it allows for conciliation
as the first mechanism to solve disputes. The current
system, which has resulted in up to three-year backlogs,
relies on the courts to resolve labor disputes.

10. (C) As it did in a 2004 version of the Labor Act, SWAPO

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introduced last-minute provisions into the 2007 legislation
without consulting the tripartite council. NEF finds two
provisions quite problematic. One provision allows farm
workers who have been terminated to remain on a farm/ranch
owner's land up to three months after termination (or for the
duration of a labor dispute). The provision makes no
exception for farm workers who have been terminated for
cause. Cattle ranchers, who are one of Namibia's main
employers, fear they will have little recourse in removing
problematic workers.

11. (C) Another provision in the Act would effectively ban
"Labor Hire" (temporary workers, contract labor, and
employment agencies). Deputy Labor Commissioner Shikongo
argues the provision is needed because companies use labor
hire to exploit workers. NEF's Parkhouse explained that
today's labor hire industry is viewed by government as
similar to the "barbaric practice" of contract labor under
apartheid, although the two share little in common. Shikongo
stated that labor hire workers generally receive one-fourth
the pay of normal employees, with the other three-fourths of
their wages going to labor hire company owners. She added
that companies view labor hire workers as expendable. Emboff
explained that in most countries temporary workers fill an
important niche by giving companies the ability to contract
labor for short-term projects and often gives young workers
their first chance to make money and gain experience.
(Comment: Unemployment amongst Namibia's young adult
population is as high as 60 percent. With many people, young
and old, employed by labor hire companies, the 2007 Act could
have the entirely unintended side effect of exacerbating
unemployment. End Comment).

12. (C) Shikongo acknowledged that there were potentially
positive aspects to labor hire, but that the negatives
outweighed them in the Namibian context. When pressed on why
the Act simply did not attempt to regulate the labor hire
industry, Shikongo responded that the GRN did not have the
resources to enforce such regulations. NEF's Parkhouse
explained to emboff that the labor hire provision may not go
into effect because its constitutionality is being challenged
in the courts.

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Tough Laws, Lax Enforcement
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13. (C) While Namibia has generally worker-friendly laws,
enforcement is not consistent. For example, Namibian
business people, workers and GRN officials have complained
that the GRN does not effectively enforce worker safety and
compensation rules on Chinese construction companies.
Chinese companies often fail to pay Namibian employees the
appropriate minimum wage and fail to provide proper safety
gear. Furthermore, according to the NEF and National Chamber
of Commerce and Industry (NCCI),Chinese companies often
employ Chinese nationals without following proper work permit
procedures. Nevertheless, the GRN rarely stops or sanctions
Chinese companies for flouting the Namibian labor code.
Namibian companies claim they cannot compete with Chinese
firms who underbid them on government contracts because they
do not pay fair wages and skimp on safety. Deputy Labor
Commissioner Shikongo, who indirectly is responsible for
enforcing the labor code, argues her Ministry does not have
the resources (less than 40 inspectors for the entire
country) to adequately police the problem. She also referred
to corruption in the government tendering process ) a
frequent criticism of the business community as well.

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14. (C) The linkage between NUNW and SWAPO's more populist
faction mirrors in many ways the relationship between the
ruling African National Congress (ANC) and the Congress of
South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Former SWAPO Politburo
member and Hamutenya supporter Hartmut Ruppel argues it is
not today's South African context that is influencing Namibia
but, rather, the legacy of apartheid in both countries that
has led their respective liberation movements to similar
political ends. Ruppel told the Ambassador in a September 24
meeting that the failure of both the ANC and SWAPO to govern
(administer) in a way that provides adequate economic
opportunities for previously disadvantaged groups has
resulted in frustration and rivalries within both ruling
parties. This has allowed for the emergence of more populist
factions, Ruppel argues.

15. (C) Unlike in South Africa where Jacob Zuma's ascendance

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directly benefited from labor's (and other populist) support,
Ruppel and others do not see one figure emerging from the
current tensions within SWAPO. While many suspect Founding
President Sam Nujoma is behind some of the conflict, he is
not likely to make a direct political comeback. It is
therefore unclear who immediately stands to gain from the
NUNW decision to promote the TransNamib strike and to ally
itself with the populist anti-Hamutenya SPYL. TUCNA has
emerged as an independent voice for labor, and Acting TUCNA
Secretary General Kavihuha states his federation is growing
and has registered some 70,000 members. If Kavihuha's
numbers are correct, TUCNA, in theory, could be competitive
with NUNW in representing workers' demands. This indicates
that some Namibian workers have grown tired of NUNW's focus
on politics. End Comment.