National Chairman, Voices of Teachers Sierra Leone, Mohamed Ali Mansaray, has charged that the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) has been badly compromised in terms of advocating the conditions of service for its members, hence they decided to form a separate union that would speak for the rights of teachers across the country.
Mansaray was on Monday hosted on the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBC) Morning Coffee programme, where he stated that teachers across the country were embarking on a sit at home strike action because their demands have not been met by government.
But President of SLTU, Mohamed Sallieu Bangura, told Concord Times in a telephone interview that Voice of Teachers was not the legally recognised body that should call for a strike action, adding that SLTU is the only body that is recognised by government.
"You cannot just call a strike without going into negotiation. We are presently in the process of negotiating with government for the possible increase in salaries and improvement of the conditions of service for teachers. Any group that is calling now for a strike action is just trying to get themselves in the context of cheap popularity," he said.
On his part, Mohamed Ali Mansaray boasted that their union is registered and that they have been issued with a certificate to operate in the country, hence they were in a legal position to advocate on behalf of teachers across the country.
"We are a union just like SLTU. We have completed our registration. Our lawyers have completed it and they have handed over to us our certificate to operate as a union in this country," he said.
Chairman Mansaray argued that it was not a novelty for a country to have more than one union that advocate for teachers, citing Ghana where four unions advocate the right of teachers thus enhancing the quality of education.
"Imagine SLTU have been operating for the last 55 years in the country, and tell me which betterment they have brought to teachers in the country," he questioned.
Mansaray disclosed that on November 12th, 2018, they issued a press release giving government a twenty -one day ultimatum to look into their demands and resolutions, adding that government called on them to the negotiating table as they were not satisfied with the double 10% for teachers in grade 1-6 and the 'provocative' 5% for others in grade 7-14.
He said they held a consultative conference with teachers in September, 2018, in which they demanded among others, the recruitment of up to 10,000 teachers to augment the free quality education, increase in the salaries of teachers to six million Leones, provision of allowances, and the improvement of the status of principals in all schools across the country.
"The number of teachers in classrooms is too small and their salaries too are very much abysmal. In some classrooms, there are up to 90 pupils," he said.
Chairman Mansaray continued that they embarked on a nation-wide tour titled 'meet the teachers' tour,' and that the strike action was a unanimous decision reached at by over forty-five thousand teachers across the country.
"Government called us to the negotiating table. We started to negotiate and we don't want teachers to feel that we will not meet them again and update them on the outcome. So, we embarked on a meet the teachers' tour. We went all the way to Kenema and to all the other districts across the country before we returned to Freetown," he said.
He noted that President Bio's free quality education flagship programme cannot succeed if the teachers were not happy, hence they moved right across the country to ascertain as to what their colleagues wanted and what they would like government to do for them.
Mansaray revealed that some head teachers in the country were receiving eight hundred thousand Leones (800,000) Leones per month, with some principals receiving one million, while others were receiving one million one hundred thousand Leones.
He called on the new government to make the teaching profession a lucrative one and make it enviable like other professions.
When Concord Times contacted on Monday, Public Relations Officer the Ministry of Education, Brima Michael Turay, declined commenting on the issue at that moment, stating that the ministry hasn't consulted the government, but he was yesterday on SLBC Television encouraging all teachers to honour their responsibilities.
Also, a press release issued by SLTU and signed by its Secretary -General dilated on an ongoing negotiations with government on the possible increment of salaries and the improvement of conditions of service for teachers through the legal body- the Teaching Service Trade Group Negotiating Council (TSTGNC) composed of government as the employer, with the SLTU) representing the employees.
"Several consultative meetings have been held with the relevant stakeholders including the Ministry of Education ,Ministry of Labour and the Teaching Service Commission before the Christmas break and it will resume this January," the release noted.
Teachers were encouraged to continue rendering their invaluable services, while looking up to the union, which is the only body mandated by law to negotiate terms and conditions of services for teachers.
Meanwhile, the union urges government to speedily conclude the negotiations so as to maintain industrial peace for the pursuance of government's flagship programme of Free Quality Education.