Close to 1 000 teachers in the Khomas Region started an indefinite strike over low pay and poor conditions of service in a move that was quickly replicated in the Erongo, Otjozondjupa, Hardap, Caprivi, Karas and Oshikoto regions yesterday.
The nationwide strike, arguably the biggest, left thousands of primary and secondary school learners stranded since there were no classes despite the fact that many learners are due to sit for their end-of-year examinations any time soon.
Teachers in the Khomas Region started marching as early as 06h00 from the Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) head office on Monday to the Ministry of Education at Government Office Park to hand over a petition with a list of demands.
Teachers are frustrated and impatient with the slow process of wage negotiations and the anticipated increase and grading system negotiations that have been dragging on since October last year. They are frustrated by the pace of the outcome of the negotiations and the ‘secrecy around the process’.
They also want their housing allowances to be brought to a market-related rate of at least N$2 000 per month to justify house or flat rentals for proper accommodation, since they say an ordinary teacher cannot afford houses in Windhoek that are priced way above their qualifying ceiling.
Teachers also demanded at least a 100 percent increment in the transport allowance and a no-tax deduction on their 13th bonus cheque. They want the Ministry of Finance to consider providing them some tax relief and to reduce their taxes from 32 to 15 percent on salary income and pension payouts.
At around 08h30, the Minister of Education, Dr Abraham Iyambo, and his deputy, Dr David Namwandi, arrived at the ministry. The moment teachers saw the two black Mercedes Benz vehicles they began to boo the minister and his deputy.
At 11h30, the ministry’s spokesperson, Romeo Muyunda, informed the media who were present at the demonstration that Iyambo and his deputy would convene a media briefing at 12h00. At the briefing, Iyambo condemned the demonstration, which he termed as “an illegal strike by teachers in the Khomas Region.”
Teachers allege that they had notified the ministry about the demonstration, but Iyambo denied the claim. Iyambo said that last week Friday the ministry received a letter without a letterhead signed by a group of ten anonymous people. “These people have not identified themselves, there are no names and emails. In their brief letter they gave notification of a planned demonstration to take place today, the 29th October 2012 at the Ministry of Education at 08h30. Upon receipt of the letter, the Permanent Secretary, Alfred Ilukena, sent out a statement to the Director of Education in the Khomas Region, Thea Seefeldt, and copied the same letter to the Nantu leadership,” the minister said.
The letter outlined the consequences of the illegal demonstration and what steps to take against those involved in the illegal strike. Iyambo said the ministry did not receive and accept the petition since it would undermine the existing recognised structures in terms of the recognition agreement signed between the government and the teachers’ unions.
Although Iyambo said no one has the legal authority to close a school without permission from him, many schools, both primary and secondary schools, remained closed yesterday with many learners returning home, while others never even bothered to show up since the message about the pending strike had already reached their parents’ ears by Sunday evening.
The striking teachers say their counterparts currently marking the grades 10 and 12 national examinations would also join them and leave the marking to show solidarity. However, Iyambo shot down the claim, saying the marking is continuing well and is being conducted in an orderly manner.
“We are informed that a small and isolated group is trying to disrupt the marking process. Any individual or group found causing disorder at the centre would be dealt with in accordance with the laws of Namibia. All markers are on a contract with the Ministry of Education and any one going against his or her marking contract should know they are violating the contract,” Iyambo warned.
For those teachers taking part in the strike, Iyambo said, they are absent without official leave (AWOL).
Prime Minister Nahas Angula said government is aware and sympathetic to the sentiments of its employees concerning improved salaries and benefits. He said such concerns are being addressed and negotiating parties consisting of the government’s negotiating team, the Namibian Public Workers Union (Napwu) and Nantu are in the final phase of negotiations and will conclude such negotiations within the month of November 2012. Teachers promised to boycott classes today as well and would march to the Prime Minister’s Office to seek an audience with him.
Although Nantu chairperson for the Khomas Region, Dankie Katjiuanjo, and his team were suspended by the National Teachers Council last Friday for allegedly instigating teachers to embark on the illegal strike, he and NUNW secretary general, Evalistus Kaaronda, led the striking teachers yesterday.
Namibia has in recent months seen a wave of industrial strikes at various institutions and companies including the national broadcaster NBC, Rössing Uranium Mine, NovaNam Fishing Company, Agribank, TransNamib, Air Namibia and Kalahari Sands Hotel and Casino, among others.