Making education an essential service is not going to fly with teacher unions, and experience elsewhere has shown that relations between the government and unions will worsen.
The essential service declaration by the ANC came after the party’s lekgotla last week, and follows on President Jacob Zuma’s promise at the Mangaung national conference to return inspectors to schools.
The plan has, however, set the ANC on a collision course with unions, and could strain relations between the ruling party and its alliance partner, labour federation Cosatu.
But the SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), the National Teachers Professional Organisation of SA (Naptosa), and the SA Onderwys Unie have banded together, accusing the ANC of a narrow focus, and elevating strikes as the main problem over bigger challenges in education.
Educationist Mary Metcalfe told Weekend Argus sister title The Sunday Independent the ANC’s essential service proposal did not make sense when the education resolutions at Mangaung had excellent ideas that could unite all stakeholders to improve the sector, and have a real impact. “There is so much agreement between the unions and government about what the problems are in education, and what needs to be done. It would be unfortunate if the issue of the essential service dominated the public debate, and the inevitable disputes about this crowded out the positive possibilities of moving forward on what is held in common,” she said.
Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said the union opposed the proposal, and that the ANC had lost an opportunity to give the nation a comprehensive solution.
There was no school infrastructure in some areas. Teachers had to teach the wrong subjects, which would lead to the downfall of education. “Politically, we are not against the ANC… but when the lekgotla comes up with a policy that won’t work, we won’t shut up,” he said.
He charged that the move was a deviation to hide corruption and administrative incompetence, and would not address the lack of investment in education.
Naptosa president Basil Manuel agreed, saying there were other ways to fix education. But the government lacked the will, and the ANC was missing the point that teaching should be made professional.
“You can’t legislate behaviour - even if they declare, do they think they can stop strikes? Doctors, nurses and the military have not been stopped, and they are essential services.”
SA Onderwys Unie’s president Dr Joppie Breed said the government lacked the will to fix the problems.
“The unions meet with the minister (Angie Motshekga) regularly and she knows exactly where the problems are, and their solutions. Essential service is against our laws and the International Labour Organisation’s statutes. The government should not get rid of (this) basic right.”
Breed said the problem was how the government rectified bureaucratic incompetence, the lack of work ethic, bad leadership and a lack of excellence. - Sunday Argus