Picture: Matthew Jordaan African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - Teachers are being overworked and those who fall ill due to stress are abandoned by the employer in their hour of need.

This was the claim made by teacher unions, who say the Department of Education shows no mercy to exemplary teachers when they need assistance

One union said they were aware of several teachers who had been hospitalised with various ailments, including stress, but returned to work only to be slapped with leave without pay notices, and had financial recovery processes instituted against them for the time they were ill.

This happened to teachers who would have used up more sick days than allowed in the sick leave cycle.

The unions recently demanded that the department put in place an overtime policy to compensate those who worked outside normal school hours.

National Teachers Union president Allen Thompson said there were teachers who owed the department to the tune of R200000 for leave without pay and others were subject to salary deductions of between R7000 and R8000 a month.

He said about 100 of their members who had returned from sick leave, many after treatment for stress, had been served with leave without pay notices.

“Many of these teachers are told when they come back that their leave was not approved. The department must consider that the reason they were sick is because they were overworked. They work long hours without being paid overtime; they don’t take leave, they work on Saturdays and during holidays.”

He said the union was aware of at least one teacher who had suffered a severe stroke to the point of becoming disabled.

Thompson said it was important that the department paid overtime in recognition of the long hours that teachers worked.

A former teacher who worked in the uMgababa area said she paid the department nearly R3000 a month for five years after it instituted a financial recovery process against her.

She said she had been diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo several surgeries and treatment.

“The rest of their money they took from my pension,” she said.

The SA Democratic Teachers Union also said it was aware of such cases.

KwaZulu-Natal education department spokesperson Kwazi Mthethwa said the issues raised by the unions were serious and the department would engage with the unions’ representatives.

However, he said the abuse of sick leave was a serious issue and there had been instances where doctors had been signing off on fraudulent sick notes.

He said cases of ill teachers were assessed on an individual basis and the department had the right to verify the nature of the illnesses a teacher had if they took prolonged sick leave.