President Hage Geingob has called on teachers across the country not to abandon their classroom duties by going on strike, as it would disadvantage them financially and would not guarantee that government will capitulate to their demand for an 8 percent salary increase, as opposed to the 5 percent offered.
This comes as thousands of teachers countrywide take part in a vote on the proposed strike in a bid to compel government to adhere to their demand for 3 percent more than what is on offer – which will cost an additional N$600 million a year.
The ballot is organised by the Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu).
Speaking at a press briefing in the capital on Friday before leaving for the 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Geingob reiterated that Namibia is a constitutional democracy, where rights and obligations are given to all.
“Workers have the right to give their labour – we hope – in reasonable conditions. If they’re not happy, our laws provide for action to be taken. We’ve been having negotiations on wages over these 26 years and thank God that all these years we were apparently doing very well and we didn’t have any threat of a strike as proposed now,” he said.
“While of course we have the right to withhold our labour, the children also have the right to be taught and the government has the right to take care of both,” he argued.
“Our position and mine, as president, is that – as you know – I declared war against poverty. By poverty we also mean that there are people with able bodies, who ought to work and put bread on their tables and who would also like to ask for a salary increment, but they do not even have the chance to dream about it.
“My concern and that of the nation is that there are many people, who are unemployed and who do not have any salary to demand, or whatever percentage increments. I’m not saying teachers do not have that right. I already outlined that, but equally government has the right to also have a lockout, which means no work no pay.”
Geingob informed the press that his office has learned that teachers were misled by some into thinking that should they strike for five days, government would give in to their demand. Education minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa suggested some teachers believe if they vote in favour of the strike they will get their 8%.
Geingob said: “That is not correct. Once you go on strike, everything is off the table. We’re concerned about the wellbeing and welfare of all the workers. Napwu (Namibia Public Workers Union) and those working for the State have agreed and understood what we’re saying and, therefore, accepted 5%.
“We’re not saying that the teachers have excellent conditions. We know the conditions are not good. They are [also] not good for police officers, army officers, as well.”
He dismissed reports that politicians have increased their salaries, which reportedly has the teachers furious. “No politician, including the president, can set his or her own salary. So, the rumour that I gave myself a six percent increment is false. There is no way I can increase my own salary.
“In the nation that we’re building we want to maintain peace, but there are people who’ve decided to make the country ungovernable. We’ve heard that, and there are all kinds of attempts everywhere to try and disrupt the peace,” he said.
“I keep on saying it’s very difficult to build, but very easy to destroy. After you destroy it, it’s not easy to rebuild. We watch TV and see how the children in Iraq and Syria are in a painful situation. They’re not going to school. So, those who are saying they’re going to strike to make the country ungovernable are wrong.”
The president stressed that if teachers go on strike it is not the union leadership that will suffer, but ordinary citizens. “The children will suffer, as they won’t sit for their exams. School order will be disrupted. Therefore, I would like to appeal to teachers to think twice,” he concluded.