The DA welcomes the ANC's change in stance on the status of the teaching profession. This must lead to a clear definition of the limitations of strike action by teachers, which will help protect learners' rights to education.
The decision by the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) that teaching should be regarded as an essential service supports the DA's long-held position that teachers' right to strike should be balanced with the best interests of learners.
The DA has been at the forefront of initiatives calling for changes to the status of this critical sector:
In October 2011, the DA submitted a Private Member's Bill to regulate teachers' right to strike, and balance this right with learners' right to education.
On 2 March 2012, we submitted questions to the President to determine if Cabinet intends approving a Bill which restricts the right of teachers to strike or if there are legislative steps being taken to prevent strikes from disrupting the quality of education.
On 13 June 2012 we proposed in Parliament that the National Assembly debates the rights of teachers to strike and defines its limits.
In the new parliamentary term the DA will be submitting a Private Members Bill that seeks to comprehensively define the conditions under which teachers can go on strike, and protect children's right to learn.
In August 2010 a South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU) strike cost learners 12 million teaching days, according to the South African Survey 2010-2011. Last December the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study found that South Africa placed third last of the 63 countries tested. The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study placed South Africa fourth last out of 49 countries. Our learners cannot afford to lose any more ground.
While we welcome the decision on limiting strike action, we must emphasise that this about-face must not be used as a red herring to deflect attention away from the systemic problems in our education system. Core service delivery challenges, such as a holistic recruitment and retention strategy, minimum infrastructure norms and standards and the introduction of performance agreements to ensure educator accountability, still remain to be addressed.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe today said "we must think broader than trade union interests." The DA will hold the ANC to this. Government must be guided by the best interests of South Africa's learners and ensure that it does not wilt to pressure from the ANC's alliance partner SADTU.
Annette Lovemore, Shadow Deputy Minister of Basic Education