Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Teacher unions call for speed in vaccination roll-out as schools resume

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Feb 16, 2021

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Teacher unions have expressed interest in getting as many of their members vaccinated as possible soon as schools have resumed operations.

Health-care workers have been prioritised because they work directly with Covid-19 patients, often putting their lives on the line.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the sector had lost 1 169 workers, while between the period of December 2020 and February, 159 educators had died. The minister said on Sunday that the health and safety of learners was a priority.

The Public Servants Association (PSA), which represents teachers and education staff in the sector, said the death rates for teachers due to Covid-19 were too high. The union said this could mean that schools could pose a threat for ensuring staffing capacity and providing children with a decent education.

The PSA's assistant general manager, Reuben Maleka, said the union was calling for teachers to be included along with health-care workers in the first phase of the vaccination drive.

"We already lost a number of teachers. Above 1 000 teachers have been lost to Covid-19. Most of the schools are now in limbo because of an operational shortage of teachers. We are saying that the sooner they are able to vaccinate teachers, then we are going to have more capacity in schools.

"Considering that many teachers have died, we also have teachers with co-mobilities who are unable to report for duty, so most of the schools are in dire shortage of teachers. Teachers should be prioritised," Maleka said.

Similar sentiments were shared by other teacher unions, but with more caution.

Basil Manuel of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), a union representing about 70 000 teachers, said his union was very concerned about the death rate of teachers and the continued uncertainty regarding vaccinations.

"Yes, we are concerned by the death rates, and many more teachers have fallen ill. What the statistics do not show is that not all those teachers recovered after 10 days, some of them were off for like three months," he said.

Manuel said his union is cautious in calling for a tussle over vaccinations with health-care workers, but unions had made it clear that teachers should be next in line after front-line workers.

"We made it very clear that we do not believe that we must muscle out anybody, but we do believe that teachers are part of the front-line workers. Those who are working with the sick must be in first. We believe that teachers must be the next group," he said.

Manuel said the biggest concern now, as the wait for vaccinations begin, is consistency in the provision of basic personal protective equipment (PPE).

"Our concerns about the short cuts being taken with health and safety. The provinces have not been fully truthful in their report to the national minister – which she broadcasts. Just yesterday we had dozens of schools reporting on a lack of PPE and water shortages," he said.

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