- NAPWU says it has no obligation towards NUNW despite being an affiliate
- Well-placed Government sources say Government will announce that it will meet the 8% salary increment demands over the weekend
- Taxpayers question the strength and effectiveness of the State’s legal machinery after it loses another court case
- President says Namibia is in serious financial problems
The fight between Nantu and Government has reached unprecedented crisis levels-and despite a court battle ending in favor of the union-the impasse between the two continues and has left the education sector in limbo. Senior government officials told The Patriot that Government is in the process of finalizing modalities to meet the teachers’ demands “for the sake of the Namibian child.” The well placed official said “government is left with no choice but to meet the demands because of the impact it will have on the Grade 10 and 12 examinations”. Both Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila and the education ministry’s permanent secretary Sanet Steenkamp promised the nation that Government will make an announcement on the matter before Monday. At a high level meeting this week between Government and Napwu, the PM brushed aside allegations that government is trying to change the rules of the game while the match is underway. They made this claim against the background of a government request to Nantu to give government a 30-day striking notice. Nantu gave a seven-day notice which has since lapsed and as a result led to the strike.
“The rules allow that any party in the negotiations, if aggrieved with the rules as determined by the conciliator can lodge a request for rules to be reviewed, it also allowed to interdict the other party until matter is resolved. The Labor Law provides for a minimum of 48 hour notice, meaning you cannot give notice that you will strike within two hours, we are saying we need 30 days hence we are not breaking any law. We are obliged to protect the rights of workers but also that of the Namibian child,” she said. Regarding talks of Nigerian teachers being flown in to replace striking teachers, the PM said Nantu has a different interpretation of the law. “Striking teachers will not be replaced permanently, the replacement is only for the exam period and they will not be marking scripts and so on,” she said. At the meeting, President Hage Geingob indicated that government would like to meet the teachers’ demand-or even exceed them if possible-but the finances of the country does not allow. “We want to meet their[teachers] demands, but as you also know we are in a serious financial problem,” he said.
If Government meets the 8% demand of the teachers, the total additional cost would be N$228 821 828 for teachers and N$652 272 114 if all staff members including teachers are included. The ministry currently employs 37,627 teaching and non-teaching staff. Official figures from the Office of The Prime Minister indicates that from 1 April 2011 up to and including the adjustment of 1 April 2016, Government has spent N$9.6 Billion on the improvement of salaries and benefits for staff members resulting in an increase of the salary budget from N$14 billion to N$24.9 billion. This means that in the 2016/17 budget, 35% of the national budget goes towards salaries and benefits of staff members.
State legal machinery
Government’s track record in recent years has been below average, with major court losses that cost taxpayers millions prompting questions about the prowess of the state’s legal machinery. The Minister of Justice and the Attorney General has often come under scrutiny and are frequently blasted for allegedly advising government wrongly. However, legal expert Professor Nico Horn is not too worried about Government’s track record in court. “Government has lost big cases in the past but such outcomes has also served as an eye opener when it comes to identifying loopholes exploited by those who challenge government,” Horn said. After the Nantu case, Horn said: “Government now knows more and even if it lost the case it is important to have legal clarity.” Asked whether there is need to reform laws in the country, Horn said such a move would not necessarily guarantee that government will win court cases. “Even if new laws are enacted, it is very difficult to identify the loopholes if such a law has not been tested. We must remember that our legal drafters are not super humans, they can make mistakes but the important thing is that they learn,” he said. Horn is hopeful that Government and Nantu would return to the negotiation table to resolve the disputed issues.
NAPWU goes solo
Napwu is one of the many unions affiliated to the flagship NUNW, but Napwu bosses are adamant that it is not obliged to decisions taken by NUNW. NUNW recently threw its support behind workers and threatened to seek assistance from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) if the proposed plan to rope in Nigerian teachers to replace teachers who are on strike goes ahead. Napwu secretary general Peter Nevonga this week said Napwu is an autonomous body which does what is right for its members. “As you know we are a union and we have a responsibility hence we do what is right. NUNW is our federation where we are affiliated, but we are there as an autonomous union and we do what is right. If the call is relating to negotiations for the current financial period-we are done. A call can be made but we can only do what is right,” said Nevonga while answering to a question from the media after Napwu met with President Hage Geingob at State House on Tuesday. The Government Negotiating Team engaged NAPWU and NANTU for negotiations for salary and benefit improvements for the 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 financial years at the beginning of 2015. An agreement was signed between Government and NAPWU and was implemented with effect from 1 April 2016 for those staff members falling within its bargaining unit. However, NANTU did not accept the 5% adjustment of salaries for Grades 12 to 5 and demanded 6% instead.
Nantu keeps doors open
Just a few months back, Nantu was under-fire from education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa regarding the salary increment demands when she said “Nantu should know its place”, the wheel has since turned and the minister is now biting her fingers hoping Nantu changes its demands. The unions secretary general Basilius Haingura, after Wednesday’s court victory, said Nantu is open to negotiate but it will not lower its demands. “The process was difficult from the start but we soldiered on as teachers,” said Haingura. Haingura strongly cautioned striking teachers to strike peacefully. “The strike is on but we are open for engagement, if the employer wants to settle the dispute we are available. We were accused of not following the law and today our actions were vindicated by the court, it just shows that we fight for justice,” he said. Haingura said the union feels pity for the learners and called on government to step in and rescue the Namibian child.
Church and traditional leaders
Nampa reported on Wednesday that the Deputy Chairperson of the Council of Traditional Leaders, Immanuel /Gaseb has vowed that Council will not be onlookers during the strike of national teachers but will act in the interest of learners. Delivering a statement on the matter at the council’s annual meeting in Keetmanshoop, /Gaseb said the national traditional authority has decided to join the Council of Churches Namibia and assist in averting the strike. “Our children have the right to education and a strike by teachers will have a devastating effect on them, as well as on our national development plans. Although teachers have the right of association and to institute industrial action, access to education remains critical. Education is the key to employment, self-employment, job creation and opportunities in life, and we as traditional leaders have the responsibility to ensure that our children stay in school,” reported the press agency. The traditional leaders joins the church leaders under the leadership of the Council of Churches in Namibia (CCN) who called an urgent meeting to discuss the education crisis and looming teachers’ strike.