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Civil servants urged to think about the children

2022-07-27  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

Civil servants urged to think about the children

Education minister Anna Nghipondoka yesterday urged civil servants, specifically teachers, to act rationally and not only consider their needs and interests but also those of fellow citizens and the country at large.

Nghipondoka made this statement during a press conference that was urgently called by the information ministry yesterday to discuss the impending civil service strike. Over 100 000 government workers are due to vote on whether to strike on Thursday and Friday.

This came after government reaffirmed its position that there was just not enough money for pay increments for public employees. Finance minister Iipumbu Shiimi and labour minister Utoni Nujoma attended the media conference. 

However, the Public Service Union of Namibia (PSUN) called on civil servants to turn up in numbers next week to
determine whether they should go on strike. 

At a media briefing last week, deputy secretary general Ujama Kaahangoro said government cannot say there is no funds while money is spent on frivolous and wasteful expenditure and people are increasingly struggling to cope under the economic challenges.

“This year, N$2,5 million was spent to celebrate independence,” he said. 

 “The demand to increase salaries is not undue but is motivated by increasing inflation levels, the knock-on effects of Covid-19 and the spiralling cost of living. Yet, government keeps digging its heels in at the negotiation table, not exploring alternative avenues to solve the impasse,” he said.

Civil servants last received an increase in 2017.

Trade Union Congress of Namibia (Tucna) secretary general Mahongora Kavihuha was equally unmoved by government’s press conference yesterday, saying what government said was not new. “They must wait until next week when the strike starts and tell us something new.

“Pay or no pay - we are going on strike next week,” he said. He also shot down analysts’ opinions published by New Era yesterday that the strike will negatively affect the economy. 

“In fact, the strike will boost the economy. Workers will have more money. There will be money in circulation,” he said.

In the event of teachers striking, Nghipondoka said, the first concern is that learners will be affected the most, after experiencing immense learning loss over the past two years and needed time to recover through face-to-face (in-person) learning opportunities.

“Some learners are still performing below the expected curriculum standards and competencies. The school system has already experienced rapid increase in learner population over the past decade, attributed to multiple factors,” said the education minister.

She said this led to overcrowded classes and created a higher demand for more than 4 000 additional classes. 

Therefore, she added, it practically means individual learning support is a challenge and the strike by teachers will make the situation worse. “The strike will only add to existing limitations we face on assessment.” 

“Learners are already coming from the long school holiday and unnecessary additional days will have an impact on learners’ progress and mental development when they come back,” she said. According to Nghipondoka, 2022 is the first year of relative normalcy, with the structure restored to their day, their ability to participate socially and physically in school activities on a regular basis back into place after Covid-19 disrupted the school year since 2020. 

“The abrupt closure of schools can be traumatic for our learners who have been missing school and yearning for a return to their normal routine.”

She said learners cannot lose any more teaching and learning time. Learning loss within all phases, and particularly for grades taking national examinations will be catastrophic and might take a long time to recover.

Financial experts and economic analysts this week warned civil servants that forcing government to institute salary increases now could backfire in the future, as elevated expenditure would ultimately increase the already inflated public service wage bill.

Workers’ unions representing the interests of civil servants had requested for a 10% increment across the board, a 25% increase to qualifying amounts on housing subsidies, a 9% increase on housing allowances, a 10% increase in transport for civil servants below management, and a N$7 per kilometre tariff increase. 

Despite efforts by the unions to revise their initial proposals for a basic salary increase from 10% to 5%, government still didn’t consider it. 

The only partial benefit government is willing to make an offer on is the housing allowance, where management and staff members below management cadre would get a 4.5% increase. 

The other benefit the government is also willing to offer is another 4.5% for the housing ownership scheme, and a 10% transport allowance increase for staff members below management level.

2022-07-27  Kuzeeko Tjitemisa

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