Africa-Press – Namibia. SHELLEYGAN PETERSEN and SAKEUS IIKELAMORE than 12 000 workers were retrenched in 2020 as businesses struggle to sustain jobs due to Namibia’s slumping economy, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
This is reflected in the latest figures on employment in Namibia, released by the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and and Employment Creation this week.Bro-Mathew Shinguadja, the executive director of labour, said the 12 198 workers who lost their jobs in 2020 were employed across 896 companies.Many businesses had to reduce their staff or completely close down due to the impact of the pandemic, in addition to the already sinking economy.The Bank of Namibia recently estimated 2020’s real gross domestic product (GDP) to have contracted by 7,3%, while the deficit was estimated to balloon to beyond 10% of GDP.Shinguadja said only 2 842 workers lost their jobs due to Covid-19, while more than 8 800 Namibians were retrenched because of other economic factors, and the closure or discontinuation of businesses.He said companies and businesses involved in accommodation and food-service activities retrenched 4 000 workers – the highest number for 2020.The retail and wholesale sector, and the mining sector combined retrenched 2 598 workers last year.The construction sector, which has been on its knees for the past three years, lost 487 jobs in 2020 when most construction projects dried up across the country.Other sectors, such as transport and storage, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing and farming lost 1 316 jobs between them.The statistics provided by the ministry suggests that Namibia’s unemployment situation is worsening amid a struggling economy.Last year’s figures are especially high compared to the job losses recorded across various sectors in 2019.They are, however, lower than the 37 000 job losses recorded in 2018.Labour expert Herbert Jauch believes the ministry’s figure of 12 198 does not reflect the true effect of Covid-19 on Namibia’s economy.Jauch says there is a high possibility that these figures omit jobs lost in the informal sector, which accounts for about 60% of the country’s total labour force.He says the number of people who lost their jobs last year could well be between 40 000 and 60 000.“We have an obligation to track statistics in the informal sector which accommodates most of the country’s workers, including the conditions they are in such as their leave days, but we have no database and are forced to guess,” he says.Jauch says due to the fact that there were no employment opportunities, on top of lay-offs for the most part of 2020, Namibia’s unemployment rate could have increased accordingly. This should be largely attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, he says. Jauch expresses concern over Namibia’s reliance on the mining and quarry sector, saying it could be detrimental to the country’s economy.He warns that if nothing dramatic happens to create thousands of jobs, the country faces ruin.“We need to process goods locally, manufacture basic building materials to service the construction industry and add value to local produce, like making juice and jams from our fruit and vegetables. This should be driven by the state, but is not their sole responsibility,” he says. DOWNSIZINGAccording to the Economic Policy Research Association, half of over 220 businesses in Namibia indicated they had to downsize since the beginning of 2020.Most of the businesses also indicated that Namibia’s business policy environment is extremely discouraging.The majority of businesses believes the government does not understand what is required to grow the private sector and that unemployment rates in Namibia over the next five years will increase substantially. The value of listed Namibian companies dipped by a whopping N$10 billion at the beginning of this year, compared to last year’s figures. The cause, according to their trade updates and commentary on released financials, is Covid-19 and its accompanying restrictions.Many companies have seen their share price nosedive by double digits.These companies are Namibia Breweries Limited, Nictus Holdings, Oryx Properties Limited, Paratus Namibia Holdings, Namibia Asset Management Limited, Stimulus Investments Limited, and the four banking groups: Letshego Holdings Namibia, Capricorn Group Limited, FirstRand Namibia and Standard Bank Namibia Holdings.From the list, only Paratus Namibia Holdings and Namibia Asset Managers saw share prices edging up lately, while others took painful hits.