13.10.2016

Teachers' strike on

The Namibia National Teachers Union called for an indefinite nationwide strike after the govenment refused to give them an 8% salary increase. Numerous efforts to resolve the impasse failed, resulting in the union asking its members to vote whether to go on strike or not. Teachers voted overwhelmingly to go on strike.
A conciliator last week worked with both parties on the ground rules for the strike, such as the picketing distance, and on whether the government can recruit volunteers. After the meeting with the conciliator, Nantu then announced that the strike would start on 13 October, and gave government seven days' notice.
The Prime Ministers' Office then approached the Labour Court to interdict the teachers from going on strike, saying the seven days' notice was too short to put in place alternative measures to handle the situation during the strike.
In her founding affidavit on 10 October, Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said the children stand to suffer most, and the country would lose millions of dollars. The Prime Minister also said the conciliator did not make it clear as to how the picketing would be done.
Government's legal representative senior counsel Andrew Corbett asked the Labour Court to consider the learners whose rights should be protected. He also said that government was not saying the teachers should not go on strike, but that it needs more time to put in place contingency plans to minimise the damage and threats to education which may be caused by the strike action. Such measures, he said, would take much longer than seven days to put in place. Corbett also said Grade 12 pupils will be severely affected by the strike seeing that their further studies depend on the ongoing external examinations. He submitted that the absence of invigilators might compromise the examinations, and compromise the Cambridge University accreditation.
Senior counsel Raymond Heathcote, who represented Nantu, said there is no provision in the Labour Act which gives the Labour Court the right to grant an interdict to stop the industrial action. Heathcote said the Labour Court can only do what the law allows it. The law, he said, does not allow the Labour Court to interdict a lawful strike. He also challenged the government to indicate the provision in the Labour Act that allows the Labour Court to interdict a lawful strike. According to Heathcote, government went to court because of pressure, and it hoped that the court would relieve it of that pressure by granting an interdict. He added that by asking for a 30-days' notice, the government wants the strike to take place during the holidays, and that would mean those teachers involved would not be paid. Submitting that picketing is just a part of an industrial action, Heathcote asked why government is not asking for the picketing to be postponed, but rather saying the industrial action should be postponed. Masuku denied the government's request, saying he would give the reasons for the judgement on 14 November.
Nantu members who attended the court broke out in song to celebrate the ruling, while the union's general secretary Basilius Haingura urged teachers to behave themselves during the strike today. “The court has made a decision. Members must not have the thing of pangas and stones during the strike,” Haingura said outside court.
A meeting which was supposed to be held between President Hage Geingob and Nantu leaders yesterday could not go on because of the court session. Geingob met the union leaders on Tuesday in a bid to urge them not to go on strike, but the parties failed to agree. Haingura on 12 October refused to talk about the meeting with Geingob. “I cannot talk on the meeting with the President; I don't know that you were there,” he stated. (Namibian, Windhoek)

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