The affordable education loan option
Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Education Department may resort to robbing Peter to pay Paul to end the industrial action by the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu).
Head of department Nkosinathi Sishi told the provincial legislature’s finance committee on Wednesday that he may be forced to use money intended to repair and build schools, to afford overdue pay rises for teachers.
While Sishi searches his budget for R360 million to meet teachers’ demands – including overdue performance bonuses and pay hikes – Sadtu is to continue its work-to-rule action this week.
Sishi conceded that some of Sadtu’s grievances were legitimate, but said he could not afford to pay teachers who had not been at their chalkboards.
Sadtu is also demanding that teachers be reimbursed the money deducted from their salaries for their taking part in the 2010 public sector strike.
“If you are not at work, you should not be paid,” he said.
However, this remained under discussion between Education MEC Senzo Mchunu and Sadtu’s leadership. The union would decide on Monday whether to call off its industrial action and whether it still wanted to see Sishi suspended.
Officially, Sadtu has embarked on a work-to-rule action this week, vowing that members will be at school for no more than seven hours a day.
However, teachers have taken to disrupting the matric trial exams, blockading question paper collection points in Umlazi and Chatsworth on Monday.
Many schools resorted to sending their matric pupils home early, or had them write past papers.
Four exams, including maths and accounting, have had to be rescheduled to later this month.
Yesterday, pupils were set to write Life Orientation and English.
Sadtu agreed to allow pupils to sit for the Life Orientation paper (which is nationally set), but not the provincially set English paper.
“Our mass action on work-to-rule continues. The only thing is that as a responsible trade union we are going to allow the writing of Life Orientation exams to continue (on Wednesday morning), but all other papers falling outside seven hours will not be written as we are not available to invigilate them,” Sadtu’s KZN secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi said in a statement.
Sishi said he could not afford to have 66 000 Sadtu-affiliated teachers not report for duty.
“They need to be paid what belongs to them and go back to their classrooms. What teachers are demanding is money due to them. I cannot take the money from my own pocket. This parliament should pay.”
Sishi called on the KZN cabinet to take a “political decision” to make the money available.
He was considering shifting funds from his infrastructure development allocation, but emphasised that doing so would be “regrettable”, considering the infrastructure backlog was in the billions.
“If you ask me to manage education, give me money to pay teachers and to build schools. Because if I cannot do that, I might as well be fired,” Sishi said, referring to his department being perpetually cash-strapped.
Despite receiving a 41.2 percent share of Finance MEC Ina Cronjé’s 2013/14 budget, Sishi’s department had R456m less to spend than in the previous financial year.
With 70 percent of his budget going to wages, Sishi planned to reduce his spending on items such as computers and vehicles. He said teachers and pupils were suffering because of budget constraints.
Marumo Maake, a representative of the KZN Treasury who was present during the finance committee meeting at the legislature, warned against using money intended for infrastructure to fund personnel costs.
“Taking money from infrastructure should be a last resort. And it should be discussed at a political level. We need to prioritise. Non-performing programmes in various government departments should be evaluated so that money can be taken from them. We are soon going to start looking at that.”
However, Maake said that all nine provinces, with the exception of KZN and Gauteng, had dipped into their infrastructure funds.
Yoliswa Dwane, chairwoman of rights organisation Equal Education, said that it was “crazy” to want to divert funds from the infrastructure budget.
The national and provincial departments had to plan better to fund decisions taken at the bargaining council level, such as implementing “occupation specific dispensation” adjustments to increase salaries.
Dwane said while teachers had the right to strike, the no-work, no-pay rule should apply – unless Sadtu could prove that its members had reported for duty.
“We can’t accept taking money from infrastructure, earmarked for such a critical purpose.
“They need to get more money directly from the Treasury,” she said.
Dwane added that while teachers had the right to withhold their labour, physically preventing pupils from accessing their exam papers infringed on their rights.
“We must separate what is permissible and what is not.”