Cape Town - A wrongly worded circular has caused panic among unvaccinated teachers who fear they might lose their jobs.
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has been blamed for its “confusing” circular, which was send to schools last week and shared on social media.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said the circular was poorly written.
“It must be re-written to convey the correct sentiments and steer clear of unnecessary threats,” said Manuel.
SA Democratic Teachers Union general secretary Mugwena Maluleke said he was aware of the circular, but was not aware that the circular might have been misinterpreted as a firing threat, “because there was no law that one must be vaccinated before given a job”.
Progressive Principals’ Association spokesperson Anthea Adriaanse said none of their members had submitted concerns about the circular.
Andriaanse said there was no reference to teachers losing their jobs because they did not want the vaccine. It stated that it respected the rights of teachers who did not want to be vaccinated, and it reserved the right to subject such teachers to the procedures as contemplated in the Labour Relations Act read in conjunction with the Employment of Educators Act.
“What is questionable in the circular is the requirement that those who were not vaccinated based on medical grounds are required to submit a detailed medical report and be subject for further medical evaluation,” said Andriaanse.
She said this was in violation of the educator’s constitutional rights, as the Constitution guaranteed the right to physical and psychological integrity.
“It is also discriminatory, as no such requirements are expected of teachers who were not vaccinated based on other reasons,” she said.
DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said that at the close of the vaccination programme in the sector, more than 517 000 education personnel out of 582 000 had received their vaccines.
Mhlanga said others could not be vaccinated for various reasons, including illness, Covid-19 positive cases, flu vaccines and hesitancy.
He said when schools reopened last week for principals and management teams, the department issued a circular to assist in managing cases where some teachers had not been vaccinated.
“The purpose of Circular 4 of 2021 was to provide guidance regarding the operational requirements for educators employed in terms of the Employment of Educators Act of 1998 following the implementation of the Basic Education Sector Covid-19 Vaccination Programme,” said Mhlanga.
He said the circular also served as a guide to managing vulnerable employees in the context of the pandemic.
He said the department has strongly recommended that education sector personnel should be vaccinated, but at no stage did DBE seek to compel employees to be vaccinated.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer’s spokesperson, Kerry Mauchline, said more than 47 500 education sector staff had been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the Western Cape as part of the roll-out in the sector.
Mauchline said this excluded those vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine under the age-based roll-out which was now available to those aged 35 plus (this age group constituted 71% of WCED staff) and would soon be available to all residents aged 18 and over.
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said the DBE was justified to clarify the confusion that emanated as a direct result of the circular that they issued to teachers, but the clarification was not enough, because it did not explain what would happen to teachers who were not vaccinated in the future, particularly those with co-morbidities.
Makaneta said the reality was that unlike other companies, teachers could not work effectively from home, particularly those from townships and poor rural communities.