National exams postponed
The Minister of Education, Arts and Culture, Hon. Katrina Hanse-Himarwa in a press statement made on Wednesday officially announced that due to the Labour Court Judge Thomas Masuku dismissing government’s application to halt the teachers’ strike, all grade 12 and 10 examinations will be postponed until 17 October 2016.
Hon. Hanse-Himarwa stated that all grade 12 examinations scheduled for Thursday and Friday 13 and 14 October for Mathemetics and Entrepreneurship were postponed until further notice. The postponement is a progression of the government’s failed negotiations with the Namibia National Teacher Union (NANTU), as both sides refuse to budge.
The teachers’ strike commenced on Thursday as NANTU called for a nationwide indefinite strike with masses of teachers picketing schools while learners could be seen walking home from schools early in the morning as per the education ministry’s directive.
The Minister of Education further detailed that all examinations for the remaining subjects will proceed as scheduled from Monday 17 October 2016. “The postponement of the above stated examinations applies to both Government and Private Schools. Parent/Guardians for learners who are in government schools are strongly advised to keep their children at home for logistical reasons on the mentioned days.” Hanse-Himarwa said.
Furthermore, the minister stated that official work for inspectors of Education, Chief Education and Senior Education Officers, teachers and non-teaching staff opting to exercise their right not to participate in the strike should continue with their normal duties without disruption or intimidation. “My sincere appreciation is extended to all the teaching and non-teaching members who were ready and willing to put the interest of the Namibian child before their own interests” the minister concluded.
In a separate statement made earlier this week, the Ombudsman, Mr John R Walters raised his concerns on the strike with regard to its impact on learners and the legalities of it. Walters said that the right of teachers to strike must be balanced with the right of learners to learn. “I say this because it is not simply a matter between the “state as employer and the teacher as employee. It involves children and their parents; not goods and commercial services” he explained.
The Ombudsman said the right to strike is a fundamental right, but is not an absolute right; meaning that it should be in line with the fundamental rights of citizens and employers. He outlined that the total 8% increase in salaries for teachers would cost the government N$228 million arguing that it would be financially impossible for the government to generate such funds.
He added that the “general rule” is that the replacement of strikers is only justified in the event of a strike in an essential service in which strikes are forbidden by law, or under circumstances of utmost gravity and in situations of acute national crisis.
However contrasting these views, Mr Hubert Jauch, the Chairperson of the Economic & Social Justice Trust of Namibia argued that the crude labour exploitation and the repression of workers’ struggles during colonial rule provides the background and a reminder of the need to protect the right to strike.
Jauch stated that after the first Labour Act of 1992 was implemented, several employers still resorted to “scab labour”, i.e. they brought in new workers to do the job of striking employees. “This effectively undermined the strike as a tool for workers and increased tensions and conflicts at workplaces. The Labour Act of 2007 therefore stated very clearly that employers must not ask anybody to do the work of employees who are on a protected strike.”
Jauch said that delaying and arguing over the strike rules, and approaching the Labour Court for an interdict will not help find a solution to the current conflict of interests between teachers and their employer. “Government has preached for years that it believes in social partnership and tripartite consultations. However, it now acts contrary to that commitment and instead of being an exemplary employer, it attempts to undermine the right to strike” he stressed.