Teachers’ strike is a national crisis

Teachers’ strike is a national crisis

WHEN the wool and mohair farmers raised their concerns regarding the new legislation that will control the sale of their products, the government was quick to form a sub-committee of ministers to deal with that problem and nip it in the bud as soon as possible.
We saw the sub-committee going around the country in an effort to address the farmers and explain to them how the new legislation was expected to work.
Not long ago factory workers were fighting for their salary increase.

The workers wanted the Ministry of Labour and Employment to hike the minimum wage to M2000.00. The government was again quick to form a sub-committee that met with all the stakeholders and a crisis was soon averted. True, there are still some murmurs of protests from workers and unions who say the final deal did not meet their expectations and government has backtracked on its initial announcement.

But the salient point remains that government seemed to have tried to move fast to deal with those problems. The solution might not be final but at least there is some indication that something was done.
I applaud the government for dealing with the above mentioned predicaments meticulously.
However, since the beginning of August when the third term began teachers across the country have been on a go-slow, a job action which they cannot openly declare for fear of retributions.
The government turned a blind eye to that situation.

In fact it has always been the sole responsibility of Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) to tackle the teachers’ issues since the inception of the current government.
Because of the unsatisfactory response from the government, the teachers decided to take their issues to the DPPR then subsequently the Labour Court.
Currently we are in a situation where the teachers unions have decided to embark on what they call intermediary strike. They will attend classes for seven days, stay at home for six days then go back to school for another seven days. This cycle will continue until the government has addressed their demands.
Some of the demands include that the MoET should pay gratuities to principals whose contracts have since ended, pay arrears owed to teachers, review the 2009 salary structure, and hire new teachers so that the teacher per student ration is reasonable. They want government to allocate resources such as textbooks to schools. The demands are reasonable and they have been on the table for a very long time.

What I fail to understand is why the government seems to take the teachers’ problems for granted. Maybe the government does not appreciate what is at stake if the teachers go on this strike.
Let me just point out a few matters that will prevail should the strike manifest.
Firstly, in line with the school calendar, the third quarter is a preparatory phase for learners. This is the time when students should be writing mock-exams to prepare them for the final exams that are to start towards the end on the third quarter.

A strike means there will be no mock examinations and this in turn will lead to poor performance for both the JC and LGCSE examinations.
Secondly, the examinations for the external classes may be interrupted. The JC students may progress to high school level and write their exams next year if the dust has settled.
But if the stalemate remains there will be a disaster for LGCSE students who are supposed to proceed to tertiary institutions.
In addition, the teachers are threatening that even if the examinations can go smoothly they will not mark them. Anybody who knows anything about the marking of external exams is aware that the markers have to go through training before they start.

The implication here is that people cannot just wake up one day and decide to mark examinations.
It is the students and parents who will suffer the consequences of this impasse. This is a case of a Sesotho adage that says when two elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.
The sad part is that the government has now resorted to threatening teachers who want to strike. The cabinet is said to have resolved to apply the no work no pay policy.
There is something curious about that threat because it would seem that the government does not realise that some of the teachers have not been paid for nearly two years.
What is the point of using the ‘no-work-no-pay on someone who is already complaining about not being paid for years?
Sober heads are crucial at this juncture.

Government and the teacher unions should refrain from using threats as leverage in a battle whose victims are innocent students,
I humbly request the government to form a sub-committee that will deal with this situation as soon as possible. I am suggesting a sub-committee because some of the concerns contained in the teachers’ letter can be solved by other ministries and not that of education.

For example the issue of gratuities is not the MoET’s baby alone.
The government and the teacher unions should remember that a strike at this time of the year is not in the best interest of anyone.

l Rakolobe is a policy expert who writes in her personal capacity.

By:  Kelello Rakolobe

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