Govt kicks in heels

The government would need just under N$9.5 billion to accede to union demands for pay increases, including a year's back pay.

08 July 2019 | Local News

Government would have to fork out a whopping N$9.4 billion to satisfy the salary increment demands by civil servants, money it does not have at this point, said the secretary to cabinet George Simataa.

Giving in to these demands would ultimately balloon the current wage bill which stands at N$30 billion to N$39.4billion, more than half of the annual budget.

The Namibia Public Workers Union (Napwu) and Namibia National Teachers Union (Nantu) have demanded an increase of 8% for the past financial year, totalling N$1.95 billion, as well as 9% for this financial year, totalling N$4.44 billion and for the 2020/21 financial year, they ask for a 10% increase, totalling N$3.03 billion.

Simataa insisted that it would irresponsible for government to give salary increments to people who already have an income at a time when it is asking a 2% donation, and when a state of emergency on drought has been declared.

The unions are nonetheless persevering, having lodged the matter with the labour commissioner.

However, Simataa said government is committed to further discussions to address the plight of workers. He cited the economic situation, youth unemployment, student funding, lack of education resources in schools, the persistent drought and the wage bill as the challenges hamstringing government. He added that it is not sustainable that a handful of public servants take up close to half of the national budget as opposed to the rest of the population.

“The current size of the public service wage bill is very high. The current wage bill accounts for N$30 billion of the total government budget of N$66.5 billion, which constitutes a ratio of 45% for about 109 000 public servants.

“The most worrying factor is that it deprives other citizens of an equal share of the national income,” he said.

Moreover, the unions have also demanded a 10% housing allowance demand, running into N$95 million for this year and an additional 10% for management which would total N$12.9 million.

The 12% transport allowance demand would cost N$100 million.

Unions also demanded for a 12% vehicle allowance which would cost N$23 million while government would have to fork out N$31 millon for the N$6 kilometre rate.

Simataa added that the excessive wage bill is not limited to remuneration but includes other benefits such as medical aid, leave gratuity and other overhead costs.

“The taxpayers and the rest of the population who have less, or nothing at all, are patiently waiting for equity and cannot be expected to be happy with the state of affairs,” he said.





He also said a decision was taken to adopt a fair approach and to guarantee the salaries and conditions of employment of all civil servants, as well as the provision of public services to all citizens despite the difficult economic times.

This is in addition to strict measures to curb the wage bull which includes to only fill critical posts, notwithstanding the high unemployment rate.



Pressing demands

Simataa was responding to demands made by Napwu and Nantu and furthermore that they have lodged a labour dispute at the Office of the Labour Commissioner, after their pleas for salary increments for public servants fell on deaf ears.

The two unions made several demands in 2018, which included 8% and 9% salary increments across the board for the 2018/19 and 2019/20 financial years, respectively.

They also demanded a 10% salary increment for the 2020/21 financial year.

The unions also asked for a 10% housing subsidy and allowance increment, a 12% transport allowance increment across-the-board, as well as the kilometre rate to be increased to N$6/km.



Impossible

While he sympathised with public servants, local economist Omu Kakujaha-Matundu cautioned that government has run out of fiscal space to borrow to cover the demands by civil servants.

He added that it is clear government is not dilly-dallying because it does not want to pay, but that it is genuinely not in a position to cough up.

He advised that it would be best for unions to “swallow their pride” at this point and be thankful with what they have.

“It is better to have something than nothing at all. If they insist, then government would have to make serious austerity measures. And this would mean they would have to lay off some people which would be more painful than not having an increment,” he warned.

JEMIMA BEUKES

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