By: Justicia Shipena and Hertha Ekandjo
Labour minister Utoni Nujoma has warned that government is under no obligation to pay any public servant planning to strike.
More than 100,000 government employees are gearing up to down tools after the government and the bargaining unions reached a deadlock for a 10 per cent pay raise across the board.
On Tuesday, the government again reaffirmed its position of insufficient funds for raising salaries.
“We recognise that the employees in terms of the law have the right to exercise their right to go on strike, however, under those circumstances, the employer is under no obligation to remunerate any of the employees that partake in the industrial action,” said Nujoma during a press brief on civil servants’ salary and benefits negotiations between the government and recognised trade unions on Tuesday in Windhoek.
The labour minister said that throughout the negotiations, the government has been transparent with the trade unions regarding the country’s financial position.
Nujoma empathised that engaging in a strike will only weaken the country’s economic base, disrupt public service delivery and distort all recovery efforts.
According to Nujoma, the trade unions declined their offer of salary increase three times.
“After a discussion, the parties reached an internal deadlock in the first instance. After the internal deadlock, the government offered the trade union an offer to increase benefits of 4.5 per cent for housing and 10 per cent for transport for below-management staff. This amounted to N$225 million as a cost to the government. The trade unions rejected this offer,” he said.
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.
Previously the unions revised their initial proposals for a basic salary; however, the government still did not consider it. It has indicated that it was willing to make an offer on housing allowance, where management and staff members below the management cadre would get a 4.5 per cent increase.
He exclaimed that reports that the government offered a zero increment were false.
In November 2021, finance minister lipumbu Shiimi said unions should refrain from demanding salary increases when the economy is at its worst. At that time, Napwu and Nantu demanded that the government give public servants increments.
Shiimi expressed that the public finances are at the worst since Namibia’s independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The pandemic saw more than 14 500 workers retrenched and 3,567 dying.
Shiimi, then in April 2022, emphasised that salary increases for civil servants would have dire consequences on Namibia’s ability to repay debt.
In the same month, President Hage Geingob informed the civil servants that there was no money during his state of the nation address (SONA).
STRIKING TEACHERS COULD CAUSE LEARNER FAILURE
Education minister Anna Nghipondoka stated that in the event of teachers striking, the first concern is that learners had experienced immense learning loss over the past two years, thus needing time to recover through face-to-face learning opportunities.
According to her, some learners were still performing below the expected curriculum standards and competencies.
“The school system is already experienced a rapid increase in learner population over the past decade, attributed to multiple factors. This led to overcrowding classes and created a higher demand for more than 4 000 additional classes,” she said.
Nghipondoka stressed that individual learning support is challenging, and teachers’ striking will worsen the situation.
She added that learners are already coming from an extended school holiday, and unnecessary additional days will impact their progress and mental development when they return.
Schools in Namibia opened on 18 July after a long winter holiday. Upon the reopening, education executive director Sanet Steenkamp had stamped that there was no time to waste in the second semester and that it would see 197 days of teaching and learning.
“Our learners cannot lose teaching anymore and learning time. Learning loss within all phases, particularly for grades taking national examinations, will be catastrophic and might take a long time to recover,” said Nghipondoka.
The education ministry had projected that the national examinations for grade 11 and 12 learners would kick start in September. Last year, the external examinations experienced disruption due to a leakage of exam papers. In 2016, a nationwide strike interpreted the Grade 12 final examinations.
WE ARE READY
Meanwhile, Trade Union Congress of Namibia (TUCNA), secretary general Kavihuha Mahongora says the government’s position will not shake their resolve to strike.
According to Mahongora, what the government is saying is not new to their eyes, and the effect it is referring to is negative to the public employees as employees haven’t gotten a pay raise in the last ten years.
“That is not new news to us! Our position is that we are going on strike; the only difference is that they are saying it affects the economy. The effect they are referring to is negative to us,” he said.
He believes the strike would benefit the civil servants, adding that it would effect more productive employees.
“We have a positive effect because more workers will have more money to spend in our shops, the money would circulate more in the economy, the public servants will be happy and be more productive. So the strike will be more beneficial.”
Mahongora argued that the government was playing with fire in maintaining its stance on the increment and said the public servants were ready to strike.
“We are not moved by this! Every person in public servants are ready to strike, and I saw that even in the sports shops, the tekkies are finished because all of them are buying tekkies to run nicely,” he narrated.
The strike would be put to the vote on Thursday and Friday, where the employees would vote on whether to begin a countrywide strike and Mahongora is convinced that it would bear fruits in favour of a strike.
“There are specific polling stations which we have communicated to the civil servants to vote. Their voting would be yes or no for a strike. We are optimistic that we will have no block, maybe only the families to the ministers that might vote no.”
Meanwhile, financial experts and economic analysts have warned civil servants that forcing the government to institute salary increases could backfire in the future.
NAPWU head of education, strategic planning and support services, Gideon Thomas, said that civil servants should not be blamed for any adverse economic effects caused by the strike.
“The only option created by law is to withdraw labour, and they are using that. Are you going to blame them for the economy? That is not the correct approach,” he said.
Thomas added that if that is the case, history will record that the last bunch of politicians have lost it in this country.
“And they are responsible for whatever consequences will come out of a strike, not employees.”