What to do about unemployment

31 August 2012
Author   J.W. ASHEEKE

Complaining about something is easy; doing something about it is harder. I listen to complaints, but I listen harder for solutions. Large portions of employable Namibians don’t have work. Other than complaining about that reality, what are you doing to deal with it?
There is a dearth of entry level positions and a large number of lower-skilled potential employees. There are also thousands of our young people who come out of the educational system for one reason or another, without bankable skills.

I am 100% in support of a minimum wage for entry-level jobs. People in these job categories usually receive poverty-level wages. Let’s face it – far too many people around here value getting something for nothing; they want as much labour as possible for as little money, regardless of value or fairness.
Too many people (black or white!) are stuck in the pre-Independence frame of mind and think that payment of a pittance to those working for them is OK. I hear people say that N$800 per month (or less!) is “a lot of money for them”, and they assuage their guilt by ‘giving’ their workers food, second-hand clothes, or cast away household goods.
No one can humanely raise our Namibian-sized families on N$800 per month and an irregular supply of commodities.
I work hard all week long, over holidays and often late into the night. I need domestic support because I cannot stand a dirty house and cannot do it myself.
Laundry still needs to be done (I hate ironing in particular;) meals need to be cooked, dishes need to be washed, sweeping, mopping, window cleaning, silver polishing, gardening, dusting, care of my dogs, all need attention every single day.
I hired someone to help me do this. My husband and I have created a job. It is not cheap because we don’t believe in getting something for nothing. We have no problem paying for ‘something’ that adds value to our home and our lives.
I openly advocate that each person at a certain income level should create at least one new job. But, I also think that the Ministry of Labour should prepare a booklet of rules to inform the public on this point; there are requirements in law that need to be known.
When you hire someone in your home permanently, you have to register with Social Security as an employer. This is not painful.
You pay the fees accordingly and your employees get a card and file number. We’ve had problems only when we changed staff; then Social Security failed to adjust our file for nearly a year in spite of repeated edit requests.
If you plan on permanently hiring someone in your home for whatever work, please, please know that you have to agree with your employee a Terms of Reference (in writing). Agree about work hours and conditions and how much is payable and when is payday.
Get every single thing in writing. If possible, review and sign the work agreement with someone else present so that arrangements signed will be more difficult to be taken back later when bad feelings come into play.
No matter how ‘nice’ your employee is at the beginning and no matter how great you feel about them now, ignore the smiles and feelings of benevolence – prepare an agreement with the worst case scenario in mind.
I was taken to the labour court about years ago by a former domestic worker and it opened my eyes considerably. She had a death in the family for which I gave her pay check for that month (it was only the middle of the month) plus one month’s worth of cash (no strings attached) to help with the costs of bereavement and I gave three weeks off with pay.
However, after two months, she did not come back to work and never sent me any message. My phone calls and SMS messages went unanswered and a hand delivered note with deadlines for answers had no response. Given my work and travel schedule and my need for domestic support, I moved on and filled the vacant post.
After two months, she returned and was furious to find the job filled. I was stunned to be called into the labour court on a complaint from that worker! But, I learned a few things in this experience.
First: before hiring anyone personally, check with the Ministry of Labour about the laws and requirements. Second: Record EVERYTHING you give to your employee and the date and conditions under which you gave it (make them sign for it)!
Take nothing for granted; there is no gratitude when things go wrong. A hospital bill or school fees paid will vanish from memory when the bad times hit. Third: The Ministry of Labour sees most employers as the ‘bad guy’ in any employee complaint.
You are guilty and must prove your innocence. The worker is assumed to be telling the truth just on their word, but you need evidence.
In my case, the worker was eventually judged to have absconded. Still, I had to pay a month’s pay (the lady only worked with me for 8 months.) Imagine that a cell phone I freely gave to my employee was used against me!
She claimed that the phone was a promised benefit of her job and it was now ‘lost’ and she demanded that I buy her another one AND give her the agreed month’s pay. In the end, I did not buy her a new phone, but that lady lied with a straight face. The scary thing is that the arbiter supported her demand before I even said a word.
These nightmares aside, I stick to my point. Each person with a certain level of income should create one job knowing that there is nothing hassle free in this world.
Someone taking care of your kids so that you can go to work has a value. That person should be paid accordingly. Do you value your kids? Then, you’d better fairly pay the people you hire to look after them. Too many parents leave kids to watch other kids with no responsible adult on site.
Maybe you cannot afford someone full time to work in your house? Okay. Hire someone two times per week or specifically for the laundry or maybe all day Saturday? Or you could work with another family member or neighbour and split her costs and time between all of you.
Ladies, you know someone who can do your hair and nails. Why do it yourself? Save that time and energy, rest for work, spend quality time with your family and pay someone else to do your hair and nails.
If you’ve got dogs, hire someone to wash and brush them and take them for walks. Dog pooh is a daily affair. It is yucky work, but it is a job for which income can be earned.
General garden work is needed regularly in most homes. There are guys standing on corners who can work in your garden. Men By the Side of the Road is a worthy organization. Call them; maybe they can assist you in finding household help.
It is difficult to let strangers into your property where they note your habits and your possessions and then they tell their homeboys who visit you later to liberate your flat screen TV. But, set some standards and protections, and then give it a controlled try.
Job creation cannot be left to the Government or the businesses alone. We all have a role to play with the large unemployment challenge facing our country. It’s easy to complain about unemployment. Now, what are YOU prepared to do about it?


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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