The ombudsman has called on government and the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) to go back to the negotiation table to avert a nationwide teachers’ strike scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Advocate John Walters, the ombudsman, on Tuesday cautioned that the effects of the strike could be devastating, with irreversible consequences on learners.
“The strike by teachers shifts the emphasis from the interest of the child as primary consideration to the problems of teachers with the authorities,” said Walters at a press conference.
Also attending the press conference was the chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, Yvonne Dausab, and law lecturer at the University of Namibia, Professor Nico Horn, who shared Walters’ sentiments.
Nantu and government reached a deadlock on salary negotiations, with government saying it is unable to give teachers an eight percent salary increase and instead offered five percent.
This resulted in over 95 percent of teachers voting in favour of a nationwide strike to commence tomorrow, should all go according to plan.
Meanwhile, the government launched an urgent application to interdict the strike. It is expected to be heard in the High Court today.
Walters said that either way the government stands to lose in terms of monetary value, adding that the question should rather be whether it will lose the N$600 million to pay for teachers’ salaries or whether it would lose “millions” as a result of industrial action. Walters added that the rights of teachers to strike must be balanced with the rights of learners to learn. “Negotiations (between Nantu and government) were doomed from the very beginning,” said Walters, who strongly believed that there was still a chance for the two parties to go back to the negotiating table in the interest of schoolchildren and parents who will be gravely affected by the strike.
“Parents should have been consulted before and during the negotiations and children should have been given the opportunity to express their views on the strike before and during negotiations, and their views should have been given due weight,” said Walters. He also made reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 12) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (Article 7), which state that “children have the right to express their voices freely in all matters affecting them and their views should be given due weight.”
Dausab, who also pointed out that indeed the education of learners would be gravely affected by the strike, commented: “We don’t dispute that teachers have the right to strike. The question is whether the strike would be the best way to resolve the dispute between Nantu and government.”
“The dispute is between the employer and employee and the third party affected is the child. The child’s interest of having a right to education is being affected, whilst they are not the ones that can solve the problem,” explained Dausab.
Although learners are not involved in the dispute between teachers and the government they would be the most affected by the impact of the strike, stressed Dausab.
“We are appealing to teachers to reconsider this strike because we know the kind of damage that this strike will have particularly on education. Regrettably the damage will be irreversible for the child rather than teachers.” The teachers’ request has been met in part by government’s suggested five percent increase, said Dausab.
“The teachers will have another opportunity to go back to the drawing board to renegotiate the salary packages that they want. But the learners, particularly the Grade 10s and 12s, will be negatively affected for the rest of their lives,” Dausab emphasised, adding that children in public schools are likely to take the brunt of the strike.
“The private school children will continue with their examinations. They will continue to access universities,” said Dausab. Contacted for comment on the issue, Nantu secretary general Basilius Haingura said it is not within the union’s mandate and scope of operations to consult parents and learners during the salary negotiation process.
“We are (only) obliged to inform them (parents and learners) on the new developments,” said Haingura, who added that Nanso has the mandate to speak on behalf of learners.