8 June 2018

Namibia: Need for Minimum Wage for Graduates

One way to address income inequality and poverty among the people is to put money into the pockets of the masses, giving them purchasing power and the ability to sustain themselves and their families as time goes by.

Which better people are there to start with than young people?

Statistics tell us that more than 60 000 graduates are roaming the streets without jobs as the economic crunch hits home and entry level jobs have been frozen in government ministries. This predicament leaves graduates who are mostly young people prone to underemployment, crime and other social ills.

There are a plethora of problems facing graduates today, but for now let us single out underemployment. Reality has forced people with qualifications to grab any job opportunity they can get as the adage 'beggars cannot be choosers' becomes more practical than ever.

We have qualified nurses, teachers and others taking on jobs as service ambassadors, cleaners, security guards, receptionists and administrative assistants, etc.

The government, through the ministry of labour, should intervene by passing a law that stipulates that a person ought to be remunerated as per their qualifications, regardless of the positions they hold. For instance, if a graduate has a master's degree and takes on a job as a cashier, the proposed law will see to it that the said individual is not paid less than N$5 000 per month (just an example).

The current situation of graduates being underemployed and underpaid is an exploitative one that affects them psychologically and robs them of their skills of speciality.

If the government does not intervene to compel most, especially private companies, to put in place a minimum wage for underemployed graduates, it will create an impression that academic qualifications are of no value as those with and without qualifications end up getting similar salaries.

The benefits of having employers legally bound to pay graduates per qualification and not per position cannot be over-emphasised. It would not hold water to argue that a cashier who holds a degree and his/her counterpart without a degree can give the same service.

It is obvious that one with a degree is bound to give better service than the one without, but this is not so in most cases because cashiers with degrees are demotivated by the low wages they get, and hence end up giving substandard output.

Another benefit is that if a company finds out that it is legally bound to pay a cleaner more money just because he possesses a certain qualification, the employer will eventually expand the job description of that cleaner, making him utilise more of his brains and retaining knowledge of speciality.

If we leave our young people who have the skills needed to develop our country to be exploited by underemployment, we are shooting ourselves in the foot because these graduates are the ones who will catapult us towards Vision 2030, and if we abandon them, we might not realise our developmental goals and visions.

In the same vein, I should hasten to mention the need to decolonise our curricula of both secondary and tertiary education. Let us do away with learning about body parts of insects at secondary school level, and mainstream our curriculum with information that is compatible to our own affairs.

It is disturbing to note that we have Grade 12 certificate holders who do not know a thing about our Constitution. Let us integrate our supreme law into the curriculum, and teach our children about our own laws. Let us also teach our children about road rules to curb road accidents. We need to strategise our educational curriculum to offer solutions to our problems in a sustainable manner.

At tertiary level, our universities need to consult employers about the skills needed in the market so that we do away with producing graduates who end up roaming the streets and being underemployed, if not unemployed.

This article might not be the panacea to our unemployment and education challenges, but it is a contribution towards a debate that must be had so that we seek long-lasting and sustainable solutions to the problems facing us today.

Enough with public relations politics, the time for action and genuine intervention is NOW!

* Vilho Hangula works as an advertising proofreader at The Namibian.

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