2 November 2012

Namibia: Teachers' Strike Heads to Court

THE Minister of Education is set to ask the Labour Court in Windhoek today to issue an interdict that should stop the illegal strike which hundreds of teachers have joined over the past week.

An unacceptable precedent would be set if teachers are allowed to continue with their unlawful strike, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Alfred Ilukena, says in an affidavit which has been filed with the Labour Court in support of an application by the Minister of Education for an interdict to be issued against the striking teachers.

The strike itself "is unlawful and has been initiated in total disregard of the law", Ilukena is claiming.

"(T)he due process of the law has not been followed and such actions clearly undermine the rule of law. It sets a precedent that is not acceptable," Ilukena is stating in his affidavit.

The Education Minister is set to ask the Labour Court today to issue an interdict against the Interim Khomas Teachers Strategic Committee, which is representing the striking teachers, and against the teachers involved in the strike, to stop them from continuing with an unlawful strike or an unlawful demonstration or occupation of the site where they have been gathering at Government Office Park in Windhoek during this week.

Teachers unhappy with the slow pace of salary adjustment negotiations between Government and the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) launched a demonstration at the Ministry of Education's head office in Windhoek on Monday.

The demonstration and work stay-away has since then also spread to other regions of the country.

Striking teachers who have been gathering at the Ministry of Education's head office in Windhoek indicated yesterday that they would only return to work once they see more money in their bank accounts.

The demonstrating teachers are demanding a 40 percent salary increase, as well as an increase in transport and housing allowances and a tax-free thirteenth cheque.

Nantu's National Teachers' Council suspended the trade union's Khomas regional branch from carrying out any activities on behalf of Nantu on Friday last week.

The union's national leadership also distanced itself from any illegal strike and stated that industrial action could only be taken as a last option and if sanctioned by Nantu's president.

According to Ilukena, salary negotiations between Government and Nantu and the Namibia Public Workers Union are still in progress and the parties have not reached a deadlock.

No dispute has been declared with the Office of the Labour Commissioner either, and no conciliator has been appointed to try to solve such a dispute, Ilukena states.

He says the current strike is in breach of the Labour Act's requirement that a dispute should first be referred to the Labour Commissioner for conciliation before strike action may be launched.

The strike could literally endanger the future of school pupils, Ilukena claims.

Learners are finalising their preparations for exams, and teachers are supposed to be in classrooms preparing the learners and conducting lessons, he says.

It is "in the interests of the learners and the education system as a whole for the unlawful strike to be interdicted", Ilukena claims in his affidavit.

The more than 500 Khomas Region teachers who have been striking in front of the head office of the Ministry of Education since Monday said they would be marching to the High Court today as from 12h00. Attempts by the teachers to march to the offices of the Prime Minister on Tuesday were blocked by the police because of the illegality of the strike.

There is a real chance that today's march to the High Court will also be blocked, but the teachers have said they will not be intimidated, adding that they will push through should the police try to prevent them from marching.

"In the morning, we meet here (Ministry of Education office premises), we mobilise ourselves and we march to the court. I don't want us to lose focus. We are here for a strike and if tomorrow at court they tell us to go back to school, we will not go back until we see money in our bank accounts. They are trying to confuse us with this court order," the teachers said yesterday.

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