Planned nationwide civil servants strike to strain economy
By Josef Kefas Sheehama.
It is often said only God reaps where He did not sow. A true democracy ensures that all citizens have the ability to play an active role in shaping the policies and course of action.
The stress on the government budget, arising from the strike of the economy itself, requires not only restructuring salaries, but also the entire set of government policies, programmes and budget. Higher prices made it difficult for households to maintain the basic standard of living, including civil servants, who ironically, are still the lesser paid in the economy. The planned strike is against the government’s refusal to increase public servants’ salaries. The issue of the non-implementation of the salary increase remains a thorny issue that requires urgent solving right away. A caring government would have implemented the agreement to ensure that the morale of workers remains high during this torrid time.
The effects of striking will be felt in the immediate and long term future as strikes are appearing to re-occur in some sectors and in some cases have become violent. The Namibian economy is vulnerable and striking could harm the country’s investment reputation internationally. The effect of a strike on the economy is difficult to calculate, but is detrimental to the country and its workers. GDP growth will be affected and the consequences of higher wages in certain sectors would inevitably lead to higher inflation.
Generally, a lengthy strike has a negative effect on employment, reduces business confidence and increases the risk of economic stagflation. In addition, such strikes have a major setback on the growth of the economy and investment opportunities. It is common knowledge that consumer spending is directly linked to economic growth. At the same time, if the economy is not showing signs of growth, employment opportunities are shed, and poverty becomes the end result. The economy of Namibia is in need of rapid growth to enable it to deal with the high levels of unemployment and resultant poverty.
One of the measures that may boost the country’s economic growth is by attracting potential investors to invest in the country. However, this might be difficult as investors only want to invest in a country where there is a likelihood of getting returns for their investments. The wish of getting returns for investment may not materialize if the labour environment is not fertile for such investments as a result of, for example, unstable labour relations.
Therefore, investors may be reluctant to invest where there is an unstable or fragile labour relations environment. The right to strike is important in a democratic country such as Namibia. However, it becomes difficult if such strikes take place too often, damaging the economy with a consequent loss of jobs which are the main sources of income in many families. Various sectors are affected by the effects of a lengthy strike. Most importantly, the economy is affected with the result that poverty becomes the consequence.
Therefore, the issue of strike needs to be addressed by arbitration to compel the parties to resolve their issues and empower the Labour Court to intervene and suspend the strike or picket. Adopting this route will prevent the loss of many jobs as a result of businesses not making profit and effect retrenchments. If interest arbitration is made law in Namibia there will be more advantages to strike than we currently have.
Furthermore, scrap deputy ministers as this is a duplication and they are redundant for the civil service to function. Why do we need deputy ministers? Do we even know who they are? For those who do not know, they are deputy ministers, enjoying all the VIP perks and sizeable salaries that come with the job. They are apparently here to serve us, even if we did not know it. The shocking truth is that the president is not constitutionally obliged to appoint even one deputy minister. It is clear that there are duplication of functions among ministers, their deputies and Executive Directors which does not augur well for the proper functioning of government. The monies being spent on these deputies, if put together, could build more health centres and educational institutions in many deprived communities in the country than one can imagine. Similarly, the resources being paid on our deputy ministers could fund many development programmes that could absorb hundreds if not thousands of our deprived youths in gainful employment, thereby easing tension around the employment situation in the country.
I regard this as an additional burden on the meagre finances of the state, given the number of commitments the government has pledged to accomplish in the areas of roads, infrastructure, energy, health and other strategic development projects. Indeed, the government is being too uneconomical in the midst of mass deprivation and I believe there is need to scrap deputy ministries.
Even without introducing the need for harmonizing salaries, which is actually being misunderstood, there is a need to increase salaries for most civil servants. Notwithstanding reserve capacity, a strike in public services is among those perceived as being the most disruptive of people’s daily lives. The cost of strike will be higher the greater the weight of the particular services in the economic life of the country. In this respect Namibia is especially vulnerable compared with its near neighbours, in that public services occupy a very important position both in terms of numbers of employees and as a percentage of GDP.
To this end, the macroeconomic impact of strike in public services can also be considerable. There is often a significant fall in consumption and a loss of confidence in the future. Therefore, the main effort should go toward improving industrial dialogue, which should involve users of public services, whose needs must be taken into account. The aim is to arrive at social harmony in which the freedom of some does not interfere unduly with that of others.