South Africa: Cosatu Opposes Making Education ?essential Service?

The Congress of South African Trade Unions rejects the suggestion of defining education as an essential service and thus banning workers in this sector from taking strike action.

This goes against an agreement between COSATU and the ANC in 2012, following the 7 March strike action, that all problematic labour law amendments, such as declaring education as an essential service, would be withdrawn.

The proposals, originally contained in the draft labour law amendments, would have led to the replacement of collective bargaining with collective begging throughout the public sector. COSATU will urgently take this up with its allies and warn them that the unions will fight this to the bitter end, at Nedlac and in mass mobilisation.

It is a fundamental attack on a basic human and constitution right, and will almost certainly be thrown out by the Constitutional Court. It is in clear breach of the ILO’s definition of essential services as those “the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population”.

As the SA democratic Teachers Union has said: “We don’t believe that declaring education as an essential service will address the challenges facing education. We have said many a times that problems confronting education are systematic and multifaceted. Targeting one component in the system, which is the teachers, will therefore not solve the problem. Problems confronting education need to be dealt with in a holistic manner.”

COSATU totally rejects the attempt to make SADTU the scapegoats for the underlying problems of overcrowded classrooms, school violence, inadequate infrastructure and learning materials and under qualified teachers. Outlawing strikes by teachers is just an escape route which will allow the authorities to do nothing about the systemic crisis in education.

Of course teachers have a central role to play and both COSATU and SADTU have repeatedly said there must be zero tolerance on those who are not in class on time and teaching and warned that those who brought the profession’s good name into disrepute should be exposed and isolated.

We cannot however place all the responsibility on the teachers. The scandalous non-delivery of textbooks in Limpopo, fully documented in the report by Mary Metcalfe, graphically illustrated the depth of the crisis. It was a result of gross incompetence among education officials and service-delivery companies.

Every South African has to take responsibility for transforming our public education service and bringing South Africa’s education standards to the highest level possible. The Basic Education Accord, signed by all education role players, stakeholders and social partners, showed the way forward to achieving quality teaching and learning.

COSATU, for instance, has taken a decision that all its affiliates and provincial structures should ‘adopt a school’, selecting those with the poorest matric results, to help them to improve, and this is now being implemented.

Depriving our teachers of their basic democratic and constitutional right to strike will do absolutely nothing to take this campaign forward and indeed have a totally negative effect.

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