The protracted negotiations of salaries and related benefits for teachers specifically and public workers in general came and went. So was the court case and stay away of teachers from their posts that culminated in the current agreement for both NANTU and NAPWU. What did we learn from events that lead to teacher’ strike of 13 October 2016? Let us begin at the stage of negotiations. It is common knowledge that NANTU and NAPWU bargain for the teachers and public employees. Ideally the two unions negotiate together with government. For the sake of this discussion we observed how the two unions went different ways during negotiations. One union accepted the state offer while the other decided to press or demand for more. This situation weakened their cause as trade unions to a certain extent. They were supposed to be united for the cause as they share a common employer despite their autonomies. Suppose, the teacher’s union did not have resources as some very poor trade unions in the country to challenge the state interdict at labour court we would be speaking a different language at the moment.
What did the teachers asked for? Eight percent was for the asking. In fact it was the 8-percentage increase demand that led to the strike even if it was not realized at the end of the day. Could that be regarded and read as failure of NANTU and teachers they represent? The fact is teachers will still get the initially offered 5% for this year with addition of 2% to the 7% as promised by the state during the next financial year. The envisaged increase will total to 9%. This development should not be viewed as failure on NANTU side but a success in addressing and dealing with poor labour relations in the country. The teachers union’ success was of being able to rise against government and its machinery and stand its ground and demands it made. It is this stance that shook and made government think twice and consider the currently agreed options. If the initial spirit of negotiations between government and unions were frank, respectful and without intimidation we do not think that a strike would have realized. In the end two institutional egos had to be nourished at the expense of employees and those they serve.
Accordingly, this development did not warrant intervention of the head of state has it been managed professionally and openly. In fact the presidential office created a precedent: it seems unless the head of state grants an audience to the aggrieved or intervene in disputes things will not be done and solutions will not emerge. Actually, the situation begs for a question: Why are those tasked with various assignments not able to deliver without intervention of the head of state? As we have argued elsewhere, the spirit of relations in labour terms leaves much to be desired if progress is to be made. The government as a largest employer should equip its personnel best in order to deal with labour issues. The negotiators should not only constitute personnel of the prime minister’s office and trade unions. Presence of personnel from the Ministry of Labour, Industrial Relations and Employment Creation should be considered as a custodian of labour interactions during these negotiations. This Ministry has a vital role to play in improvement of labour relations. It should not only come into place at level of Labour Commissioner when disputes are declared. Its effort and involvement to enhance sound labour relations should be ongoing and not a once off affair.
Authored by Dr. Michael Uusiku Akuupa. For Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI)