WINDHOEK: Civil aviation workers’ rights to strike will suffer a grave setback in Namibia should the Essential Services’ Committee recommend that the industry be declared an essential service.
The Namibia Cabin Crew Union (NCCU)’s Vice-President Osho Onesmus raised this concern during a presentation by Air Namibia on Wednesday in response to Government Notice 220/2012 to recommend that all or part of electricity services, aviation and port services be designated as essential services as contemplated in the Labour Act, No 11 of 2007.
Representatives from the national airline as well as union members are meeting with the Essential Services’ Committee at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare here to discuss the issue.
“We must remember that collective bargaining is a voluntary process, centred on the good faith of bargaining between workers and employers. Thus, putting a blanket ban on the aviation sector and its workers will violate their right to freedom of association, and it will have a direct negative effect on their part to collective bargaining.
In addition, it will also violate the convention on freedom of association by our nation,” noted Onesmus.
Essential services means a service whose interruption thereof would endanger life, personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population of Namibia, and which has been designated as such in terms of Section 77 of the Labour Act, No 11 of 200.
However, Air Namibia does not render any service that justifies the definition described in the Labour Act, 11 of 2007, Onesmus stated.
According to her, Air Namibia operates scheduled domestic, regional and international passenger and cargo services, and the national airline does not provide emergency services.
Therefore, Air Namibia cannot put any lives in danger if cockpit, cabin crew and groundhandling staff are on strike, she argued.
Customers can also make use of airlines such as British Airways, South African Airways, Air Berlin and TAAG Angola Airlines to reach their destinations from Namibian airports if Air Namibia workers are on strike.
Onesmus explained that the company policy makes provision that should any passenger fly, he or she should be mentally fit, and should Air Namibia fly medically unfit passengers, they should be accompanied by medical personnel.
She claimed that the company’s written presentation submitted to the committee is primarily based on economic and political reasoning, and has “failed to give substantial facts as to how and when the lives of the population are in danger should the workers exercise their right to strike”.
Speaking at the same occasion, Air Namibia Corporate Legal Advisor Jerhome Tjizo explained that industrial action in the form of a strike would cripple operations for as long as it would take for such services to be restored to normal.
“Whilst economic arguments could be advanced in support of this submission, we are mindful of the fact that the same would not constitute valid grounds for seeking the designation envisaged herein, hence our focus on how personal life and safety would be compromised in the event of a strike,” he said.
The airliner has over the past few years negotiated and entered into collective and recognition agreements with the Namibia Airline Pilots’ Association (NAPA), Namibian Cabin Crew Union (NCCU) and the Namibia Transport and Allied Workers’ Union (Natau).
Tjizo noted that whilst all the agreements vary in terms of duration and procedures for bringing about amendments or reviews, it is common cause that a designation as essential service of the segments proposed will automatically bring about adjustments to the agreements with the unions in as far as it relates to industrial action.
“As such, the airline is intent on providing for compulsory arbitration in all its union agreements, where impartiality will feature prominently as a means of safeguarding and ensuring the independent and unbiased resolution of disputes,” he added.
The presentations started on Wednesday, and continue indefinitely.