Opposition parties in parliament have expressed solidarity with more than 43 000 “forgotten” civil servants, who last week overwhelmingly voted for a nationwide strike.
The members of parliament lamented the lives of the working people have become miserable due to the government policies, the increasing unemployment and inflation.
Namibian Economic Freedom Fighters (NEFF) legislator Kalimbo Iipumbu said the strike is about bread and butter – and as representatives of the working class and the people, the NEFF is touched by the position government has taken against public workers. “It is completely disheartening that civil servants, who had to deliver essential services for the duration of the horrific episode of Covid-19, have been denied a decent living by corrupt, greedy politicians who, themselves, have refused to take salary cuts,” he said. “It is further astonishing
that the same government that has stubbornly maintained that it has no money to pay civil servants had the audacity to splurge a whopping N$4 million on state funerals,” he added.
“How one places imminence on dead people much to the detriment of those who have to live and continue sustaining our statehood and economic stability is beyond common sense,” he questioned.
He said the strike action comes at a time when the office of the president has shown its lack of humanity and outright callousness by spending a staggering N$48 million on travel and subsistence expenses (S&T) in the last two financial years alone.
“It is, thus, beyond common sense that a government tells hundreds of thousands of families they have to wait some more in the face of spiralling food, transport, repo rate hikes and fuel inflation, simply because the government has no money,” he added.
National Unity Democratic Organisation (Nudo) MP Josef Kauandenge yesterday welcomed the decision taken by the majority of civil servants to go on strike.
He compared the Swapo-led government to a young child, whose hand was discovered in a cookie jar because, while claiming to be poor, they spend money carelessly all over the place. “For the past five years, Namibians have been told to tighten their belts, while the Swapo political elites’ belt is way open. In fact, they have added another hole in the belt to loosen it as the current ones become too tight from their eating and plundering of our resources,” he said.
The strike, in Kauandenge’s opinion, is befitting the Swapo-led administration because it is the same government that has pushed the civil servants down this path.
“If we are to tighten our belts as Namibians, the Swapo-led executive should lead by example, but we haven’t seen any cuts from their perks over the past five years; why then should the civil servants be ones to suffer,” he said.
Popular Democratic Movement (PDM) MP Hidipo Hamata said Namibians have observed increases in fuel prices in the past five months, leaving consumers and small and large businesses reeling.
“While fuel prices are going up, salaries of potential customers remained stagnant, eroding their buying power in the process. Secondly, food prices increased as well, making it more expensive to purchase basic food products, forcing households to make trade-offs in their budgets,” he said.
“This is especially true for households with an income that remains stagnant, despite rising prices. These hikes in prices come at a very difficult time, considering that government did not grant any salary increments to civil servants for the past five consecutive financial years,” he added.
He said the party is in agreement with The Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) and the Namibia National Teachers’ Union (Nantu), who maintained the position that the basic salary should be raised by 5% for the 2022/23 financial year, while housing allowance is proposed at 9% increment, 10% increase for transport allowance and another 10% proposed for motor vehicle allowance for the 2021/22 financial year.
“Life, as we are used to, has become extremely expensive – and as a result, the PDM supports the civil servants’ vote for salary increments as proposed by Napwu and Nantu,” he said.
Meanwhile, following comments by the Teachers’ Union of Namibia (TUN), president Mahongora Kavihua, that nurses too can strike, health executive director Ben Nangombe hit back, saying the Labour Law of 2007 is clear on who could embark on industrial action.
What is constituted as essential services in terms of section 77 (4) of the Labour Act, 2007 (Act No. 11 of 2007) includes ambulance; casualties; theatre; intensive care unit; hospital wards; laboratory; pharmaceutical; dental; radiography; physiotherapy; mortuary; medical, including specialised and hospital kitchen services.
“The law is very clear. We don’t want to see a situation where it can be interpreted as irresponsible statements. The strike is provided for by law but there are exceptions to the strike. I don’t know how Mr Kavihua would feel if he or his family member goes to the hospital and people are on strike. The law is clear who should be on strike,” Nangombe remarked.
Among other critical services include hospital laundry, emergency management, disaster management, potable water, waste management, scientific, as well as electricity-related services.
The law also classifies services such as air navigation, air traffic management, communication navigation and surveillance system, search and rescue services and meteorological services for air navigation as essential.
However, the education sector will be the hardest hit, as teachers formed part of the lion’s share of the vote in favour of the strike.
Education executive director Sanet Steenkamp said the strike would only add to existing limitations the ministry faces on assessment and conclusively suggest the impact of the reformed curriculum on learning outcomes.
Namibia National Students Organisation (Nanso) spokesperson Dorothea Nangolo maintained a strike by teachers at this point would have a negative impact on the delivery of education and the completion of the curriculum.
“Learners are in a critical time, especially AS learners, grade 9s and 11s – but overall, there have been significant interruptions in the education system over the last three years, and we cannot afford any more,” Nangolo said.
The ministry has 28 773 teachers employed by the government and 755 131 learners in state schools, of which 544 870 are in primary school and 208 098 are in secondary school.
“In the event of a teacher strike, the first concern is that learners experienced 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,” Steenkamp said.
She anticipates learning loss within all phases and particularly for grades taking national examinations will be catastrophic, and which might take a long time to recover.
According to her, national examination timetables are already in schools, and school closure will have a negative impact on all processes involved, including the release of the results.
Therefore, she said, the next academic year calendar will also be negatively impacted for formal education and institutions of higher learning, adding this will also have massive financial implications.
NSSCO coursework and oral exam will start from 12 September to 29 September 2022, while the written examination will commence from 17 October to 23 November 2022. NSSCAS coursework oral exams are scheduled for 10 to 21 October 2022, and written examinations for 10 October to 18 November 2022.