7 November 2012

Namibia: Govt Warns Striking Teachers

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 — The Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Stanley Simataa, yesterday warned striking teachers they could face unspecified action.

Teachers at schools in the Khomas Region, Oshakati, Rehoboth and Walvis Bay have been on a wildcat strike over higher wages and better conditions of service for over a week now.

"Firstly, government wishes to express its gratitude to all those teachers who remained in their classrooms, as well as those who have heeded our clarion call to go back to work," Simataa told a media briefing.

"However, government is perturbed and disappointed by the conduct of some of our teachers notably in the Khomas Region who seem intent on defying the court ruling declaring their strike action as premature and illegal," he said.

He reminded the aggrieved teachers that Namibia is a democratic state that is governed by the rule of law.

"As such, employers, employees and of course ordinary Namibian citizens are obliged to abide by court rulings. Continued defiance of the court ruling has the potential to yield undesirable consequences. The rule of law is sacrosanct and as such must be respected at all times," said Simataa.

Government through the deputy information minister once again appealed to striking teachers "who persist with illegal demonstrations and or the strike to stop forthwith and join their colleagues in bringing the current school calendar to an orderly close for we owe this to our future generations." He stressed that "there is no legitimacy in persisting with the current course of action when wage negotiations with the recognised bargaining unions as provided for in the Labour Act, are about to be concluded and more so when no deadlock has been reached."

"We call upon teachers and other staff in the public service to beware of desperate individuals who claim to be union representatives but who are hell bent on sowing discord in the public service," said the deputy information minister.

Simataa encouraged public service staff, particularly teachers to exercise their collective wisdom and to reject impulsive and unsolicited representation because they have recognised unions, which are preoccupied with issues affecting them.

"The fact that government is engaged in wage negotiations is sufficient proof that as an employer we recognise our employees' rights to bargain - however strictly within the ambit of existing legislation governing such matters," he said, adding that teachers should not allow reckless conduct to bedevil a good cause.

"There is now an impression that for everything to be done - you need to go on strike, no it's a wrong impression. Instigating people to go on an illegal strike is an irresponsible act for any responsible person. We need to avoid being reckless," he warned striking teachers.

Striking teachers last Friday suffered a legal setback when Judge Kato van Niekerk granted the government an interdict against their demonstration in front of the Government Office Park and to return to teaching. However, the defiant teachers who have been joined by other civil servants, including nurses, say not even a court order will stop them from striking. "Probably the negotiations would be concluded by the end of this week if not next week. It is not our intention to have negotiations dragging on," Simataa said.

Simataa was accompanied by Alfred Ilukena, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education who said although there are over 23 000 teachers in Namibia, it is not known how many are participating in the strike.

Ilukena said: "I am confident that we are talking of a small number of people involved. In Khomas we have 2 873 teachers, if you look at the teachers reported I don't think it will reach there."

Ilukena said the national mathematics and English tests for Grade 7s which were supposed to take place on Tuesday are not examinations in the strict sense of the word. "It is not an exam like Grade 10 to pass to the next grade. There is continuous assessment throughout the year. The Grade 7s write the test to diagnose the gaps and to gauge whether they are ready for Grade 8 - so the teachers can know how to assist them."

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