Teachers deserve better

Over the past few months we have regularly seen unions and employers smiling in front of cameras after agreeing to new wage deals.
The latest was the one inked by banking group Bank Windhoek with the Namibian Financial Institutions Union (NAFINU), where all permanent non-managerial employees’ salaries for the 2016/2017 financial year will increase by an average eight percent.
To add a cherry on top, the parties further agreed that the staff rental allowances will be N$750 per month and will be extended to all employees in the bargaining unit, with the transport allowance increasing by eight percent.
Government has not been left out, agreeing to a wage deal with the Namibia Public Workers Union (NAPWU), where civil servants in Grades 15, 14 and 13 got a general salary increase of 10 percent, while those in Grades 12 to five got a five percent hike, with Grades 4 to 1A getting a four percent increase.
Housing allowance for management staff was increased by eight percent, with general staff getting a nine percent windfall, while the Home Owner’s Scheme for staff members went up by 10 percent.
All this came at a N$1.7 billion increase in cost to government, considering the increase will see its wage bill increases amount to over N$25 billion against over N$23 billion in increases the prior year.
Now the big question is why teachers are getting the raw end of the deal and being given excuses as to why they can’t get an eight percent salary hike instead of the five percent on the table.
Why are they now being subjected to veiled threats from high offices should they vote to exercise their democratic right to strike.
Yes, children will be affected should a strike be agreed, but have those that have raised these concerns also thought about how children and families of teachers are surviving with the cost of living rising on a monthly basis?
If one looks at data from the Namibia Statistics Agency, prices of a selected basket of goods have increased by an average of 10.48 percent from July last year to July this year, notwithstanding that inflation is now at seven percent.
Rentals have remained on an upward trend despite plans to introduce rent controls on accommodation in the country.  And most pointedly, despite reduced demands from Angolans, that had been blamed for driving up property prices, who are now drastically cutting back due to economic challenges in their country.
If the 100,000 employees in the civil service have been cushioned against these increases in the living expenses, then why should a teacher who is responsible for raising, molding and educating our children, not deserve more of our respect and gratitude.  I mean what better way to do that than rewarding them handsomely when pay day comes.
Like every Namibian, I am concerned about the state of our economy and the country, but putting that against not affording to pay one group while payouts are made to others, is unfair.
When things were going well economically why were the powers that be not singing loudly about that, but now that things have gone south, teachers are given a lesson in economics as to why an increase in their salaries is not a good thing for the economy.
If we focus on economics, then let’s look at the issue of supply and demand.  Taking a look at the advertisements placed by the Ministry of Education seeking teachers, it shows that Namibia has a critical shortage of qualified, experienced teachers and thus government should be willing to enlist their services at a cost that reflects this fact.
Like everything else, sacrifices will have to be made by government to meet the teacher’s demands, including cutting down on the recruitment in the uniformed forces as a cost savings (considering the country is at peace.)
Government can also save by reducing workshops and hosting international conferences that gobble up millions for the sake of looking good to the outside world while an important section in our society is not happy.
Government, instead of opting for the big luxury cars, should opt to buy fuel efficient cars, thus cutting down on its fuel bill while also reducing its carbon footprint.
The implementation of a paperless working system can also go a long way in saving paper and reducing printing costs, which use up millions in a year.
Money is there for the teachers, it only needs the political will to make changes in how we spend what we have to find it.