The Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu) has threatened to take government to court, should it continue with attempts to replace striking teachers with volunteers, citing the practice as “unlawful”.
Nantu secretary general Basilius Haingura yesterday based his argument on Section 76 of the Labour Law Act of 2007, which stipulates that “Despite the provision of any contract of employment or collective agreement an employer must not require any employee who is not participating in a strike that is in compliance with this chapter, or whom the employer has not locked out, to do the work of striking or locked out employees, unless the work is necessary to prevent any danger to a life, persons’ safety or health of any individual.”
Haingura argued that teachers are not classified as essential service providers; hence do not deal with the health and safety of learners at schools. Equally, Section 76 stipulates that “an employer may not hire any individual to perform the work of a striking or locked-out employee.”
Teachers are demanding an 8 percent salary hike, but government has offered only 5 percent this year, which led to teachers unanimously voting to strike.
“They must not fool the nation, because the labour law does not make provision for that. We’re not rendering essential services. That is why we’re allowed to go on strike. We’re not dealing with the lives of people. A teacher can be absent from school, but no child will die. They should not confuse the nation. People have read and understand the law,” Haingura noted.
Director of the Labour Resource and Research Institute (LaRRI) Michael Akuupa shared similar sentiments, saying the Labour Act is clear on the matter of hiring replacement labour during a strike or lock out, as Chapter 7 of the Act outlines requirements and expectations of both the employer and employee. “In this regard the government must not hire any individual for the purpose, in whole or in part, of performing the work of a striking or locked out employee. We learned that the government has called upon volunteers to work during the moment of strike. With reference to the law it is illegal. It seems government wants to create a debate on how the clause in the law is to be interpreted.
That is why they are referring to using volunteers. There is no need to even debate this matter, as the law is clear. There is no silent or grey area of the law on this matter. Thus, Nantu has a point and in fact a case if they choose to challenge government in court with regard to interpretation of… Chapter 7 of the Labour Act,” Akuupa maintained.
In terms of safety, Haingura said Nantu would communicate with the learners and their parents to inform them that the teachers will go on strike at 07h00 on October 13. “We expect the parents not to send their children to school, because anything might happen to the child. We don’t want teachers to be blamed for that… The strike is indefinite,” he remarked, and cautioned that government should uphold the rule of law.
“I want to caution the government that when they are making laws for this country they are not making laws for other people, but for everyone, including themselves. We expect government to uphold the laws of Namibia. If they’re thinking of replacing teachers, they’re violating their own laws, but we will challenge them. We’re not going to leave them unattended. They must lead by example and respect the laws they set themselves,” he warned.
Further, he said in terms of education provision, government must be clear, as schools do not only have Grade 10 and 12 learners. Therefore, he said, the whole education system should be protected if government wants to protect the exams by hiring invigilators to supervise school examinations in the event of a strike.
Asked when they plan to launch the court challenge if government replaces teachers with volunteers, he said: “In fact, the moment we go on strike and any case of replacement is reported to our office, that is the time we’re going to challenge them [in court].” Haingura said they are busy identifying a venue where all striking teachers can gather rather than protest at their duty stations.
However, he reprimanded teachers who have allegedly started boycotting classes ahead of the impending strike slated for October 13. “We’re not in support of that. They must come to school until 13 October.” Anybody who is striking now is engaged in illegal activity. “They must wait until the legal strike, which starts on the 13th,” he cautioned.