A local labour expert says delaying and arguing over the strike rules, as well as approaching the Labour Court for an interdict to stop the imminent teachers’ strike will not help to find a solution to the current conflict between teachers and the State.
Thousands of teachers are scheduled to embark on nationwide industrial action today that could paralyse the Namibian education system, as many learners – especially Grade 10 and 12s – are writing their final examinations.
The teachers are preparing to strike in support of their demand for an 8 percent salary increase. What started as a routine collective bargaining process escalated when government announced it was unable to offer more than 5 percent, citing financial constraints and current debt levels as the main reasons.
Chairperson of the Economic and Social Justice Trust Herbert Jauch says government has preached for years that it believes in social partnership and tripartite consultation.
“However, it now acts contrary to that commitment and instead of being an exemplary employer it attempts to undermine the right to strike. We, therefore, call on the Namibian government to return to the negotiation table in good faith and we appeal to both parties to show the leadership and maturity required to reach an agreement,” he noted.
Government also pointed out that the mooted teachers’ strike would have far-reaching social, economic and financial consequences.
On its part, the majority union negotiating on behalf of the teachers, the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) pointed out that politicians have increased their own incomes and benefits substantially over the years and that the inflation rate reached around 7 percent in August. Thus the union argues that the demand for an 8 percent increase is reasonable and amounts to little more than an inflationary adjustment.
Jauch says the arguments presented little more than the usual differences between employers and workers, but the differences intensified when government declared that it would not move beyond a 5 percent increase and when high-ranking government officials accused teachers of being unpatriotic and lacking a sense of care and duty towards their students.
The vast majority of teachers then voted to strike, apparently to force government back to the negotiation table. In response, government made various efforts to delay the strike and explored options to replace striking teachers, a move Jauch says undermines the letter and spirit of the Labour Act and constitutes an attack on the right to strike.
“We wish to point out the right to strike was hard fought for by Namibian workers, as well as workers elsewhere. Even in cases where this right is formally granted, employers and governments still make attempts to undermine it. In our own case, the crude labour exploitation and the repression of workers’ struggles during colonial rule provides the background and a reminder of the need to protect the right to strike.
“After the first Labour Act of 1992 was implemented, several employers still resorted to “scab labour”, in that they brought in new workers to do the job of striking employees,” he noted. This, he said, undermined the strike as a legitimate tool for workers to address conflict in the workplace.
“As a Trust advocating for social and economic justice, we therefore need to add our voice to those who reject efforts to bring in “volunteers” and even teachers from elsewhere to undermine the strike,” the Jauch maintained.
The Labour Act stipulates that: “employers must not ask anybody to do the work of employees who are on a protected strike.”