Durban – WITH thousands of teachers expected to return to the classroom today, the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) continues to fight in court for wage increases.
The Department of Basic Education announced this weekend that since the country is moving to lockdown level 1, the teachers should return to work as per agreements with the teacher unions.
About 22500 teachers across the country had been granted concessions due to age or comorbidities, and 5900 of them are in KwaZulu-Natal.
Sadtu’s chief negotiator, Mugwena Maluleke, said the government was attempting to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to avoid its legal obligations.
The provincial department painted a positive picture with regard to Covid-19 infections last week, saying they had dropped dramatically since August, and on some days no cases were being reported by schools.
It said there had been 3000 Covid-19 infections. About 2300 teachers and more than 400 pupils were affected. More than 60 deaths due to Covid-19 were recorded.
In a statement, the Basic Education Department said the collective agreement (with unions) was aimed at granting concessions to teachers who were affected due to risk factors for severe Covid-19.
“The implication of President Cyril Ramaphosa announcing the country was moving to level 1 means that the concession to teachers to work at home will no longer apply from midnight on Sunday (last night).”
It said that the country’s cases had decreased, and the risk to teachers over the age of 60 and those with comorbidities had reduced considerably.
“The affected individuals should return to work as of today. If, however, there are some individuals who are not well, they are advised to follow the normal process in applying for sick leave,” it said. It urged the provincial departments to honour the contracts that had been entered into with substitute teachers who had been employed to fill the vacancies left by teachers who had been granted concessions.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel said it was compulsory for teachers to return to work. This was part of a collective agreement the unions had reached with Minister Angie Motshekga.
“It is compulsory. Absence without permission is akin to absconding,” Manuel said.
Thirona Moodley, Naptosa KZN’s chief executive, said the union hoped there were no spikes in Covid-19 among vulnerable teachers as this would be devastating.
She urged those teachers who were returning to school to be extra cautious and ensure their safety.
National Teachers Union president Allen Thompson said it was important to remember that these teachers were not sick.
“These are teachers who had been granted concessions either due to age or some health issues. Their return means that we should address the issue of overcrowding in classes. We do not expect that there will be classes that are overcrowded as there are substitute teachers.
“There are schools that are still in desperate need of substitute teachers,” he said.
Educators Union of SA president Scelo Bhengu said the country moving to level 1 did not mean the danger of the virus had disappeared.
“We should have been given clarity on the safety in schools before these teachers were summoned back.
“The danger is still there. For instance, the government is still not allowing people to attend sporting events because of an understanding that where there are large groups of people seated together, there is a danger. Some schools have more than 500 pupils,” he said.
At the same time, the government is involved in a legal wrangle at the Labour Court with public-sector unions over its alleged refusal to honour a clause in the Collective Agreement, which refers to the payment for the final leg of the multi-term three-year wage increase agreement signed in 2018.
Sadtu’s Maluleke submitted a 48-page affidavit last week.
Part of the affidavit read: “Government has failed to lead by example in respecting constitutional obligations. It does not come to court with clean hands in efforts to assert the Constitution. Despite its breaches, the government wants the court to assist it to avoid legal obligations that it freely and deliberately undertook in good faith.
“It ought not to be permitted to avoid these obligations.”