Strikes will yield dust

14 June 2019
The various unions threatening strike actions if they aren’t given salary hikes need to have a dose of cold, wet financial reality thrown in their faces. 
Union leaders are weak when they are too frightened of losing their members and their own pay checks and remain silent (or whip things up) while choosing to allow their rank-and-file to remain delusional about expecting salary increases even though the country is well and truly broke. 
Where is the will power for union leaders to step out of their company board meetings, top level cars and away from their expensive smart phones and present the truth to their struggling members that in this fiscal year, it is a challenge just to keep jobs or create new jobs, let alone raise salaries?
When reading about civil servants murmuring for salary increases or Namibia Airports Company employees threatening strikes and airport closures, we wonder if someone who is disconnected with reality is leading trade unions and cliques among workers. 
Are the workers demanding increments unaware of the massive impact of the drought?  Are they aware that 12,000 qualified applicants have no state funds to borrow for their schooling?  Are they aware that thousands of graduates cannot get jobs because of the civil service hiring freeze?  Are they aware that this country’s debt to GDP ratio is frightening?  Are they aware that government and private sector companies are not paying (or paying very late) their vendors because there is no money?  Citizens are defaulting on insurance policies, bank and car loans and credit card payments every day.  Small businesses are folding and malls have empty sales space while food prices go up.   Do they see the abandoned construction worksites and the precipitous increases in numbers of unemployed men by the side of the road desperate for any kind of job? 
Allow us to offer a blunt newsflash to all who are crying for pay increases in the middle of an economic depression:  consider yourself fortunate to have a job, as there are armies of people out there, with no job who would be happy to take yours and earn even less than whatever you making. 
Rather than more money, unions should be negotiating for job security for existing workers, more paid apprenticeships, re-training programs for the retrenched and better benefits packages for voluntary retirement.  Unions should be fighting to ensure that when the economy rebounds, new hires will be those who were laid off earlier.  The unions should be picketing outside of banks and financial institutions as they demand lower interest rates on home and car payments and generous payment grace periods for those in temporary financial trouble. 
Auditory hardball must be played in speeches.  The unpopular choice that the workers must be given is this:  We may increase your individual pay checks after you tell us which hospitals or schools to close and what other employees should lose their jobs to finance your increment.  
These are desperate times and some desperate measures are needed. 
This is not to say that the pay increases demanded are not needed.  We fully support the necessity of professional and well-informed trade unions to advocate for workers and monitor the implementation of the Labour Act.  But, what sense does it make for someone to fight to enter a life boat with their heavy luggage taking up a spare seat at the expense of providing a rescue for someone else who might drown. 
Everyone is under economic pressure; all of us would like increased salaries.  But, the economy is wailing in pain; there is no fat in anyone’s budget.  In other words, priorities must be painfully realigned.  Government must be firm in this election year and spread the pain evenly.  Workers wanting pay increases need to understand this truth.
All that said, we are concerned that government and state-owned and funded institutions which are all in financial extremis now, have a credibility gap.  There is such a long list of decades of wasted billions, lost law suits, questionable infrastructure projects, corrupt tender processes, money wasted on scams, disproportionately high salaries for executives who have no performance contracts, cavalcades of Mercedes Benz cars toting ministers everywhere, travel by government officials when it is supposed to be curtailed, and stump speeches proffering that the worst of the economic problems are over when the speakers know very well the end is not nigh. 
There is arguably good reason that unions and their members are threatening strikes when money appears to still flow to the ‘high, mighty and connected.’  The Grim Reaper of waste and corruption has come to collect his bounty; many people do not trust government when it says it is broke.
The country must still conquer many demons before getting back on financial track.  While the country has achieved many good things since independence, it has also spent more than it has earned; it has lost, stolen or wasted too much. Outside financial conditions are working against us and now we must pay the piper.  Demanding ‘more, please’ when the bowl is empty doesn’t help even if you are more aggressive each time you ask.
The trade union and worker focus on pay increases is like shouting into a major sandstorm in the Namib; no one can hear you, even if they try.  Going on strike now will not yield gold; it will yield dust.


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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