Three unions, representing more than half of the civil service workforce, yesterday rejected a Cabinet proposal to reduce the early retirement age from 55 to 50 – a move justified as a means to control the hefty N$23 billion public wage bill.
In a statement released on Friday Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said Cabinet has proposed to entice more people to take early retirement by offering attractive incentives.
The unions instead called on government to cut the high salaries paid to politicians if it really wants to control the wage bill, which has tripled since 2009.
The unions warned that sending people home at 50 will have an adverse effect on the country’s skills base.
Others argue that even if workers retire at 50, their positions still need to be filled.
Secretary general of the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) Basilius Haingura expressed reservations about the proposal, saying government must consult all stakeholders before taking a final decision.
Haingura said civil servants, such as teachers, would have no reason not to go on early retirement if they are paid their full package. “Going on early retirement is not an issue. The reason why people do not opt for early retirement is because of the penalty imposed by GIPF. Anybody who wishes to go on early retirement should not be penalised,” Haingura said.
“Government should pay the remaining period of a person who goes on early retirement and give people their whole package,” he suggested. The current situation discourages teachers from taking early retirement, he maintained.
Alternatively, Haingura proposed that government should come up with different retirement options. He also argued that reducing the early retirement age will not necessary reduce the wage bill, because the vacant posts still need to be filled.
“Some services, such as teaching, are social responsibilities of government. Therefore, you cannot freeze posts, because it will hamper education delivery,” he warned.
“Namibia is still a young country and in terms of sufficient skills for the market we are not there yet. In this context, I must say we will lose too many skills too early,” Haingura argued.
He is of the view that reducing the early retirement age will not benefit the country, nor its workers. “We will reject such plans,” he vowed.
President of the Namibian National Labour Organisation (Nanlo) Evilastus Kaaronda also rejected the proposal, saying it will create a skills gap. “In the short term it will serve government well, but eventually it will create problems because we do not have enough skilled people to take up the jobs,” he said.
Kaaronda also warned that approving the proposal would have contractual implications. He said if government really wants to reduce the wage bill it must start by tackling the salaries of politicians.
“If we want to control the wage bill then we must start with the politicians and the bloated top structures of government. Those who are making these proposals must cut costs at their own doorsteps,” said the outspoken union leader. “We will not accept such a proposal,” Kaaronda said.
Taxpayers fork out over N$100 million annually on the salaries of the country’s political class, including close to 300 political appointees. These include members of parliament, special advisors, regional governors and regional councillors, amongst others.
A bloated executive under the new administration has not made things easier either, but President Hage Geingob has in the past reiterated that building up a country is an expensive process and that with time the costs will be reduced.
Secretary general of the National Union of Namibian Workers Job Muniaro also indicated that the NUNW would not support such a proposal. “This is about the workers and we have a slogan that says: ‘Nothing about us without us’.”
“You cannot stagnate people at 50. If that is the case, then government must first send back the expatriates because some of them are as old as 70,” he charged. He also warned that the move could push up the unemployment rate.
The changes are mooted at a time when the average life expectancy in the country stands at 53 years for males and 60 for females, as per the latest statistics produced by the Namibia Statistics Agency.
The Government Institutions Pension Fund (GIPF), which is worth some N$81 billion, refused to be drawn into the discussions yesterday, as it is one of the key stakeholders.
The general manager of marketing and corporate communications at GIPF, Elvis Nashilongo, said: “[I am] tempted to give you my immediate answer, but due to the technical nature I need to touch base with the Fund’s actuaries.” Nashilongo said commenting on a process that is not yet finalised would be “preempting what government wants to do”.