7 November 2012

Namibia: 'Govt Cares,' Says Angula

Photo: New Vision
The teachers are striking over overdue salary increases and a lack of communication from their union leaders, who are engaged in the protracted wage negotiations with the government.(File Photo)

Windhoek — Prime Minister Nahas Angula said the public has a partial understanding of what is going on with the negotiations for salary adjustments for teachers, but government does care.

The Prime Minister's remarks, in an exclusive interview with New Era, follow the comment by Swapo Party Chief Whip Professor Peter Katjavivi that even though the ongoing teachers' strike is illegal, there is a need for a platform for dialogue.

The MP says a platform should be created between government and the teachers to bridge the gap between the two parties wrangling over salaries. "[The] court decision over the issue is clear. However, if the teachers are not happy about the outcome, it will do us no good to just leave the matter at that," he said.

"Therefore, somehow in a situation like this, normally there is an arbitrator who is supposed to ... bridge the gap by creating an enabling environment for a progressive dialogue so as to create a situation for an amicable compromise from both parties. This could form the basis for getting the teachers to work while a long-term solution is being sought," explained Katjavivi.

Katjavivi was interviewed on the NBC's Otjiherero language service yesterday, where the parliamentarian expressed concern over the fate of learners since the end-of-year examinations are approaching.

Angula explained government entered into an agreement with a recognised trade union (Nantu) - however, another group approached government for parallel negotiations.

"It is not because we do not want to listen to those who are demonstrating. The issue is that we are bound by the agreement in terms of bargaining that we must do so with the recognised trade union," the Prime Minister said. He advised trade unions to straighten out their differences somewhere else and to only approach government if workers feel they are not being represented properly.

"Government will conduct a ballot to see who truly represents the workers," he said, adding that while government is prepared to talk to anyone, it is not prepared to break existing bona fide agreements.

Angula shot down reports that it had taken government years to finalise wage negotiations. He said that in 2011 government concluded salary negotiations and other conditions of service and benefits with the unions that resulted in a 10 percent salary adjustment.

However, part of the agreement between government and the unions was that some items needed further investigation and study, such as housing benefits for public servants, re-grading, medical benefits, the retention of scarce skills in government, as well as incentives for people working in remote areas.

As a result, committees to investigate these issues were set up this year by government and the unions in order to have information on the table on each of these issues.

"The committees have been working on these issues and unfortunately took longer because they consist of people employed in government," said Angula, explaining that the committee members have to seek permission from supervisors to work on assignments that are not part of their jobs.

"That is why the negotiations could not be concluded earlier in the year," he said.

The Prime Minister further emphasised that government is not deliberately delaying the conclusion of the negations. "Government cares a lot, it is only that the committees could not conclude the studies on time," he added.

In addition, the housing issue is a complex issue, Angula said, because the housing allowances of civil servants depend on the level of pay.

"The majority could not qualify for a bank loan because of the level of pay. One needs to investigate what do to with this level of civil servants," said Angula.

He added that the GIPF proposal on creating a housing scheme for the majority of civil servants backed by their pension is part of the investigation. He said government is worried when employees are not happy and that he realises that unhappy employees will not exert themselves intellectually and physically on development programmes, which will ultimately impact service delivery.

According to the Prime Minister, government is thinking of possible medium and long-term solutions to mitigate future strikes by developing a clear-cut framework through which these negotiations could take place and work towards a social contract.

"We as a government [will say that] we have these programmes to be implemented and employees [can demand] benefits to be guaranteed by government," he explained.

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