Durban -

Teachers who have applied to be placed on incapacity leave (long-term sick leave) have had their salaries docked, or have been placed on unpaid absence by the KwaZulu-Natal Education Department.

One such teacher, who is an amputee, blind in one eye and on dialysis, has been home since his application for ill-health retirement was denied in 2011.

Teachers’ unions say that as well as backlogs in the processing of applications, requests for incapacity leave and for ill-health retirement are being unfairly rejected.

However, the department contends that some of the teachers on incapacity leave (which is paid) have been working elsewhere.

The department also maintains that the management of incapacity leave and ill-health retirement is “generally” without problems, but it has conceded that some applications were initially wrongly denied.

By last July, 7 800 KZN teachers were waiting for applications to be approved while the department paid them, and their substitutes.

The applications are ordinarily forwarded to independent health risk managers to investigate.

However, provincial education departments were without health risk managers for much of last year, because of a court challenge by an unsuccessful contract bidder.

The contracts are awarded by the Public Service and Administration Department, with which the Basic Education Department is discussing how to speed up applications received last year.

About seven years ago one of high school teacher Thavananthan Reddy’s legs was amputated above the knee. In 2010, he went blind in his right eye, and his kidneys began failing.

In September 2011, his application for ill-health retirement (made in November 2010) was deemed premature and he was ordered back to school. But according to Reddy, his health worsened, and he started suffering from severe depression – which a letter from a psychiatrist confirms.

Reddy, a teacher for 34 years, said he was reapplying for ill-health retirement, and submitted his incapacity leave application every term.

“Someone is not reading all these documents… At least send someone from the department to come and see me. I sit here crippled in my home.”

A meeting between Reddy and the department was scheduled for last Thursday, but Reddy said he was unable to attend it at short notice.

Anthony Pierce, the KZN head of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said there were many cases of teachers who specialist doctors confirmed were candidates for ill-health retirement.

Pierce said that in Reddy’s case it was “crystal clear” he was not able to resume teaching in 2011, and that in most instances these cases ended up being heard as unfair labour practice.

Department spokesman Muzi Mahlambi said Reddy must have received a “warning letter” that it intended putting him on unpaid leave.

Reniël Lodewyk, the KwaZulu-Natal secretary of the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie, said the salaray of a member who had applied for incapacity leave in 2008 was frozen abruptly last week.

But according to the department, her salary was docked to recover money because while on paid leave she was employed in a governing body post.

The Mercury