Avert teachers’ strike

Avert teachers’ strike

THE government could face yet another headache after the three biggest teachers’ unions threatened to down tools to press for better working conditions when schools re-open on August 2.
The unions have given the government an ultimatum to address their grievances by month-end or face a massive job stay-away.
The Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), the Lesotho Teachers’ Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho Principals Association (LESPA) accuse the government of dithering in addressing their grievances.

The teachers and their principals are a very unhappy lot. They accuse the government of failing to consult them when it passed the new Teachers’ Career and Salary Structure in Parliament.
Under the new pay structure, teachers will no longer be paid based on their academic qualifications.
They are also not happy with the performance contracts introduced by the Ministry of Education.

While we would naturally want to sympathise with teachers, who have historically been underpaid and under-valued for decades, we doubt whether the teachers’ unions have exhausted all avenues to have their grievances addressed.
We urge the teachers to give dialogue a chance. Strike action should be a last resort.

That is mainly because strike action by teachers will not only hurt students, some of whom are preparing for their end-of-year examinations, but the strike will also unnecessarily antagonize relations between the unions and the government.
If the teachers are not happy, they must continue to engage and persuade the government to take up their cause.

Yet on the other hand, the government must demonstrate that it is committed to addressing the teachers’ concerns. It must cast off this image that it is aloof and is disinterested in solving the crisis.
As for specific concerns, the Minister of Education Prof Rapapa is in the best position to address those concerns. Take for instance, the issue of performance contracts.
We still do not understand why teachers would fight the introduction of such a noble endeavour which to us appears designed to improve academic standards.

If there are any differences, such differences should be quickly ironed out. The principle that teachers will be rewarded on the basis of their performance cannot and should not be faulted.
But differences of opinion between the two sides can only be ironed out when the teachers and the government give dialogue a chance.
We are also aware that grievances by teachers over poor pay and working conditions are not new. Teachers have been raising these issues for years, with very little political will on the part of successive governments to act on the issues raised.

That needs to change. Despite enormous sacrifices and the long working hours, teachers remain some of the lowest paid workers in the civil service.
We would be happy if a new, creative mechanism to reward hard working teachers could be found. That way, the education ministry will be able to retain excellent teachers in the classrooms.
It is a pity that some of the best teachers, incensed by the pitiable salaries, have walked out of classrooms in search of better paying jobs in the private sector.
If we retain half of such teachers, our education system, which is now a pale shadow of its former self, would be much richer.

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