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Durban - Radical demands by KwaZulu-Natal teachers, including free housing, school fee exemptions for their children and double pay for extra work, has set them on a collision course with the government.
The provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), Mbuyiseni Mathonsi, said the union was “prepared to go to war” over some of its demands, which form part of the resolutions adopted at their provincial conference last week and released on Wednesday.
In demanding the double pay for extra work, Sadtu resolved that, “all extra work will have to be discontinued as a permanent feature of the system and that if there is any compelling need, such should be remunerated in terms of the Labour Relations Act rather than stipends”.
This means that the extra classes to be held in September as part of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Education’s matric intervention programme - aimed at boosting struggling schools and pupils - are in danger of being disrupted.
Sadtu wants teachers to be paid double for such work instead of the “exploitative” R90 hourly rate that is currently paid.
The union said teachers were being taken advantage of by the department, as many of those had accepted the rate out of desperation.
“Sadtu will also fight the department on its newly found form of exploitation whereby they delay the testing and examination programme to the last day of the school, forcing workers to mark and prepare reports during school holidays.”
The union, Mathonsi said, would hold workshops to formulate an implementation plan of the congress resolutions.
“But I don’t see us not having a march some time in October around this issue.”
Sadtu is also demanding a 15 percent salary increase for teachers, saying they earned too little. The union feels strongly that teachers’ children should not pay fees at public schools, and should also automatically qualify for the National Students Financial Aid Scheme for tertiary study.
Children of general workers such as cleaners, especially those at the former model C schools, should also benefit from free education for their children enrolled at those schools.
Mathonsi said there was no reason why children of university employees should qualify for free tertiary education but not those of teachers for study at school.
“It cannot be correct that you can find a teacher producing education but their children cannot afford to go to school.”
Apart from free “decent” housing, Sadtu wants teachers to be given free serviced land to compensate for their low salaries, because many of them could not afford to own a house and did not qualify for RDP houses.
“We will not allow teachers to occupy those small houses,” Mathonsi said. “What kind of a man can you be if you can’t provide shelter for your family. Every day we are being castrated as fathers.”
Many teachers were now resorting to early retirement or resignation so as to draw on their pension funds, which they then used to buy houses - only to re-enter the system again, he said.
Sadtu wants teachers to be allowed a “window” into their pensions which would allow for partial withdrawals. This would require an amendment to the government pension act.
Education expert, Graeme Bloch, said there had been no study to determine how well or how poorly teachers get paid. “But definitely, principals (are) poorly paid,” he said. “One cannot expect teachers to do things for free. If I calculate that R90 an hour, it works out to less than R200 000 (a year), so that is low.”
But Bloch said that before taking up their fight, teachers should first win the public over.
“They need to argue that they are badly paid and show where the money would come from,” he said.
“I wouldn’t go to war. The public is very cross with teachers at the moment. More debate is needed and I don’t think the teachers will win.”
The problem was exacerbated, Bloch added, by the department having made numerous promises to teachers in the past, only to renege on them later.
KZN Department of Education spokesman, Muzi Mahlambi, said this morning that the issues raised by the union would have to be addressed nationally. “Even though the call is being made by the Sadtu members in KZN, it has national implications. This is a sectoral matter, not a provincial one.”
He did not comment on the demands themselves.