The South African Democratic Teachers' Union (SADTU), the largest union in the public sector in general and in education in particular, welcomes the declaration of the Essential Services Committee not to designate as an essential service, the services of school principals, deputy principals and Heads of Departments at schools and therefore upheld their right to strike.
SADTU claims this as a victory in the face of the neo-liberal and anti-worker rights onslaught waged by the Democratic Alliance (DA). It is the racist DA who earlier this year, requested the Essential Services Committee to investigate and make a determination on whether services rendered by educators and support staff in basic education and early childhood development could be declared an essential service.
The DA's s submission was an open attack on collective bargaining and labour peace. Any attack on these is a promotion of anarchy and disorder which will lead to unsafe environments for our learners. The latter is what the DA wants, they want anarchy.
SADTU was the only trade union that made submissions before the Committee; we have been vindicated. Our submission was in the best interest of children and teachers who work in deplorable and unsafe conditions that have cost them their lives. To have this racist DA pointing a finger at SADTU is not only an insult to our intelligence but to that of our children and teachers who know fully well what is happening in schools. The DA wasted the tax-payers money calling for the Essential Services Committee to investigate the matter with half-baked submissions knowing fully well that their arguments had no legal standing. Theirs was simply an electioneering ploy masquerading as messiahs for the education of a black child which backfired. The racist DA will continue to be defeated.
We commend the Committee for being thorough in its investigation. They did their investigations without fear or favour and highly professional despite the rented crowds by the DA to intimidate us and the Committee during the hearings. The Committee applied their minds in full as they weighed the submissions and the various legislations with a fine-tooth comb to reach their conclusion which was similar to ours.
There was no basis in law to restrict or prohibit the right of educators and support staff to strike;
The right to strike should not be undermined, rather balance be sought between the rights of teachers and learners;
An analysis of the actual services provided by educators was required as it was clear that the decision on the designation of an essential service would be based on non-teaching activities that educators might not be obliged to render;
There was no need to designate catering as essential as this service was provided by volunteers who received a stipend from the government and therefore were not employees and would not strike;
The provision of food in schools is always interrupted, not by strikes but through lack of funds for feeding projects;
During strike action, learners do not come to school and therefore there is no one to feed;
The cleaning in public and particularly in rural schools is done by learners and if there is industrial action, the children do not come to school.
Our position was supported by Section 27 and Equal Education.
In their submission, the DA had argued that principals, deputy principals and HOD's are employees in positions of authority in schools and in the event of a strike, they should exercise the necessary authority to ensure the safety of the learners. Whilst the panel agreed that the safety of learners should be protected, it was not persuaded that the School Management Team (SMT) should be in a position to safeguard the learners. The numbers of learners at a school is such that the team would not be able to manage and ensure the safety of learners.
In terms of the Labour Relations Act, a protected strike requires advance notice to be given and accordingly, the situation should not be different from where children are required to stay at home due to adverse weather or outbreak of disease. In the circumstances, SADTU argued that the life, personal safety and health of children attending schools is not entirely dependent on staff and schools and therefore they cannot not be endangered by an interruption where lawful procedures for such interruption have been complied with.
The following services were also not designated as essential services:
The catering services at schools including boarding schools;
Cleaning services a schools including boarding schools;
Any services within basic education in respect of special needs schools
Any services rendered in respect of early childhood development.
SADTU will always fight for the right to quality public education for all and seek, at all times, to balance between the rights of the teachers and learners.
The DA has been exposed for who they are; they have no regard for quality public education and labour rights. Recently, the DA passed an Education Bill in the Western Cape that seeks to undermine the School Governing Bodies and labour legislation where public funds will be given to private companies or groups of private companies to run schools. This is aimed at converting our schools into public-private partnerships that erode labour rights and make profits from public coffers. SADTU won't allow the DA to get away with this; we are going to challenge and campaign against this bill.