16 January 2013

South Africa: We Are Fiercely Opposed to Education Being Declared an Essential Service but We Support the Proposal to Treat It As an Essential Service

NEHAWU fully supports the South African Democratic Teachers' Union {SADTU} in dismissing the call by the ANC for education to be declared an essential service. This is a half-baked approach in trying to address a myriad of problems that surround the education system. Some of the systemic and operational problems that weigh heavily on our education system cannot be addressed through legislation but require insightful, honest and collective approach by stakeholders.

Declaring education an essential service will be constitutionally flawed and will be in violation of the International Labour Organisation’s classification of essential services. An essential service refers to a service which, if interrupted, would endanger or inconvenience the life or the health of people. Education cannot be therefore declared an essential service.

We agree with the alternative sentiment expressed by the ANC Secretary General ,Cde Gwede Mantashe that education should be treated as an essential service in terms of our behaviour and how we relate to it. We believe that all education stakeholders need to agree on the solutions that are to be adopted going forward and at monitoring and evaluation systems that are needed to achieve the set goals. This should start with ensuring that we provide teachers and students with adequate infrastructure and support tools to teach and learn

The remuneration and working conditions of the workers also need to be addressed as a matter of priority. Our union has always been consistent in its call for the review of the remuneration policy of public servants in general in order to avoid unnecessary strikes, reduce high staff turnover and improve service delivery.

Learning needs a conducive environment in order for it to take place and the fact that people enrol for teaching as a last resort because of its poor remuneration record needs to be addressed. You cannot legislate the fact that people are leaving the profession because of disillusionment. Laws are not going to deal with the fact that teachers are forced to start small businesses on the sides in order to supplement their incomes therefore splitting their focus from teaching.

This country is in dire need of skills and literate people and we support the fact that education has been made a priority by our movement the ANC and its government. We all have to acknowledge that there is no nation that has improved its literacy levels by underpaying its teachers and failing to improve their working conditions. Governments do not pass legislations that are meant to coerce its workforce and deny workers their rights in order to improve efficiency. There is no unilateral action that will improve the education standards while the management systems remain weak and other services are outsourced or privatised.

Workers remain critical stakeholders in the education sector and without their participation and buy in; our dream of improving our education outcomes in quantity and quality will never materialise. Our union is prepared to play a constructive role in improving the quality of our education but is fiercely opposed to having it declared an essential service.

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