By: Justicia Shipena, Ludorf Iyambo
Following a tense month in which civil servants across the country were on the verge of a government shut-down, forcing President Hage Geingob to cancel his foreign trips to Cuba and Jamaica urgently, the secretary to Cabinet George Simataa and the chief union signed a 3 per cent salary increment agreement on Thursday.
The civil servants initially wanted 10 per cent. On the very same day, Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA), secretary-general Kavihuha Mahongora called the 3 per cent deal an ‘insult’.
The two bargaining unions are Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) and Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu).
Civil servants’ basic salary increase has been backdated to 1 April 2022.
Napwu’s secretary-general Petrus Nevonga during an urgent press briefing by President Hage Geingob, said the government reconsidered its position and increased the N$334 million offer to N$924 million.
On top of this, the civil servants below management will also receive an increase in housing allowance of 11 per cent and transport allowance of 14 per cent.
“It is an insult to the process, taking the effort and energy put in it and coming to agree on these figures,” said Kavihuha, adding that public servants are shocked by the increase.
He expressed that if one translates those figures into numbers, it shows that the public employees were “played” and that it was a waste of time to engage in elections for the strike.
“It was a waste of time to engage in elections because I’m sure some resources were spent in that process. In fact, at the low paid such as cleaners, it is only a 90 dollar increase that cannot even afford a 2l bottle of cooking oil. Imagine what kind of increase that is,” he vented.
Last Thursday and Friday, the workers voted on whether to strike or not, which resulted in over 42 000 civil servants voting in favour of it.
Over 100,000 government employees were gearing up to down tools in demand for a 10 per cent pay raise across the board.
At the same time, the workers also demand a 25 per cent increase to qualifying amounts on housing subsidies, a 9 per cent increase on housing allowances, a 10 per cent increase in transport for civil servants below management, and a N$7 per kilometre tariff increase.
Kavihuha, in reaction to the deal, said the workers were devastated and disappointed but also expected it.
“Because when dealing with yellow unions to bargain on your behalf, this union collaborates with the employers, things can come up. Again those figures are disappointing, but what can we do?”
He said the next step is to await a mandate on whether public servants will accept this or not.
“If they say let’s move on with the strike, we will do so, but the mandate must come from them because we represent the workers.”
Kavihuha claims that the unions are trying to blind the workers while stating that these unions are for ‘elites’.
“Nevonga mentions how the government moved from 300 million to 900 million, but he does mention what the union has reduced from whatever figures to 900. They are working hard together with the employers to blind the public servants. These unions are for elites. There are not for the vulnerable. So the elite gets high money because 3 per cent of 30 000 is around 9 00, but it pushes others in the high tax bracket,” Kavihuha narrated.
INCREASE BELOW INFLATION RATE
Speaking to The Villager right after the announcement, labour expert Herbert Jauch said he was surprised that the agreement was reached so quickly.
According to him, when a union gets a new offer from the employer, as a union negotiator, it must go back to its members to get the mandate to sign the agreement for acceptance.
“You need to find out, are they expecting the deal that the employer is offering, are they unhappy, or are they saying we go ahead with the strike? This is important for the unions’ democracy because they must represent the members on their mandate when they negotiate,” said Jauch.
He also criticised the three per cent increment, stating that it is little below the inflation rate and is not an inflation adjustment.
“The 3 per cent increase is minimal because we remember that for five years they did not get any increase at all, and the 3 per cent now is below the inflation rate, so we can’t call it an increase. It is not even an inflation adjustment, so it is a very tiny amount of money for the civil servants.
However, he added that for the government, this is a modest amount they would be able to arrange within the budget.
Thus he said, it seems governments’ argument that there is no money has carried weight, and the unions accepted it to a certain extent.
He also said the increase is a massive gap from the initial proposal.
“I thought they would settle somewhere in the middle, close to six or seven around there and not at just three per cent—whatever reason was given by the unions, they must explain that to their members.”
Jauch said he doubts if the public employees will welcome the three per cent increase.
“I don’t think they will be entirely happy because the initial amount was substantially more. I don’t believe the civil servants will be pleased with the outcome,” he added.
He emphasised that it was clear that the government needed to offer at least something if it wanted to avoid the strike.
“It was also clear that a National strike of that magnitude would have been the biggest strike in Namibia since independence, and it would have been quite challenging to settle. So the government tried to offer something, although it was less than what they asked for. I’m not surprised that the government was moved a little,” said Jauch.
Meanwhile, PDM member of parliament Nico Smit finds it strange that the unions accepted the offer without returning to its members.
“Should they have gone back to their members and asked whether they should accept this or not?” he questioned.
Smit added that what the government has offered from the start is what they gave now.
“There are also some question marks about the unions accepting this offer. It seems to me like everything is not so much above board.”
He also questioned where the government would get the N$924 million.
“The total amount is very close to one billion. I don’t know where the government will get that money, first of all. I am not against the increment, but whether we have the money is a question.”
“The government does not have that type of money. The only way is to borrow it, which will put us in much more debt. That is, to me, unacceptable. The government did not manage the salary increment of the civil servants for a long time. They always ignored requests and demands from the civil servants until they were now pushed into a corner and did not have a choice but to come up with the increase, but they didn’t have the money they have to borrow, which won’t be good.”
Professor Joseph Diescho also argued that trade union leaderships operate on the mandate given by their members and that it is fair to conclude that the mandate that was given through the voting that took place over two days was unambiguous.
“This mandate was very clear. If the union leaders were convinced that the President cancelled his overseas trips and the strike was no longer necessary, the leaders needed another mandate. When and how was that mandate given?”
He also said it is interestingly observed that the main reason was given by the trade union leader, who gave a long-winded speech on behalf of the government.
“A dinner with union leaders might have happened. We were initially made to understand that the main reason for the civil servants’ unhappiness was that their salaries stayed the same for more than five years when living costs were climbing astronomically. Something is not adding up quite well here,” said Diescho.
Geingob, in a statement hours after announcing the deal, welcomed the salaries and benefits agreement between the government and the trade unions.
When The Villager asked if the union had consulted the public servants before striking the deal with government, Nevonga said that, in the two unions ( Nantu and Napwu), there are structures of members representing other members.
“We reached out to representative members who were given a mandate by others to represent them, and after we informed others of what was suggested or said by them in the structure,” Nevonga told The Villager.
Quizzed further if the 3 per cent was satisfactory, considering the public servants had asked for 10 per cent, he said that, for 2022-2023, civil servants did not suggest 10 per cent, but only 5 per cent.
A LESSON LEARNED
Meanwhile, NEFF’s Kalimbo Iipumbu told The Villager that the situation presents an opportunity for the government to sit down and make sure that they create avenues where the State can save for predicaments of this nature.
“This situation can still come in future. This lesson should now be learned that government should prioritise, and certain positions should be done away with. So that we are able as government to save so that when situations arrive like this, we can at least listen to our people without wasting time,” Iipumbu comments.
In June, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) indicated that Namibia had U$191.1 million in outstanding purchases and loans.
Outstanding purchases and loans are general resources account (GRA) credit of Namibia known as outstanding, representing the total GRA loans disbursed to member countries less their repayments.
Financial analyst, Nghinomenwa Erastus, argued that governments’ income derives from value-added tax, and if the people are not paid adequately, they will not support the economy.
“Government finances are pretty tight right now, but given that they have access to the country’s capital market, they have the money,” adding that there are platforms or channels where the government can get the money.
“If you stimulate the economy, you can get this money in the medium term and again, you can borrow. They might not have the money, but they have two platforms: borrow or stimulate the economy, grow and get taxes,” said Erastus.
Earlier this year, Zambia offered its own civil servants a 12 per cent salary increase across the board.