Durban - The KZN Department of Education is tightening the screws on teachers who are on prolonged sick leave. It wants detailed quarterly reports on their progress.
The department appeared before the Finance portfolio committee yesterday, where it highlighted the challenges it faces because “quite a number” of teachers are on prolonged sick leave. It described the issue as “cumbersome and expensive”.
The process of teachers on long sick leave is managed by an outside agency that conducts the assessment of their medical state and submits reports to the department.
It has long been a concern that the process was being abused as some teachers were on prolonged sick leave for months, or even years, at a time.
Head of department, Dr Vusumuzi Nzama, said they had no indication whether this process was being abused. He said although he did not have figures, there were quite a number of teachers on prolonged sick leave and this was costing the department a fortune.
The amount the department was paying for teachers on sick leave was not immediately available.
“The teacher sick leave is a process managed by an outside agency. They are the ones that assess the teachers on their condition, using their doctors and give us reports. It therefore becomes very difficult to interfere with that process,” he said.
Nzama said they would now be demanding quarterly reports from the organisation to get a sense of what is happening.
“We want the reports so we could find out how many teachers are there, how many new entrants, what is the process that is followed in treating them and at what point does the issue of medical boarding come up.
“This is a very expensive process because when the teacher is on leave, we must get a replacement.”
Nzama also spoke on the issue of general vacancies within the department, this after the chairperson of the committee, Sipho KK Nkosi, said a number of districts faced critical staff shortages.
Nzama said many of their districts faced critical staff shortages – he highlighted uMkhanyakude district where those meant to be serviced by that district had to travel to Zululand for service.
It emerged that in uMkhanyakude, critical posts like finance were vacant.
“It is difficult to fill these posts as there is no money to fund them. We have to be able to sustain these posts with all the benefits that come with it. The question Treasury keeps asking us, when we speak about these posts, is whether we have the money.
“These post areas are a mixture of old and newly created posts, that came from the organogram that the department had drawn up, which stated that all districts should have their finance and human resource functions,” Nzama said.
Nkosi said the critical shortages were a problem for the workers and damaged the credibility of the legislature, and gave the impression that politicians are dishonest.
“In some districts, you (Department of Education) are lucky that teachers are still getting paid at all due to staff vacancies; you have a few people doing a lot of work.
“We visited some of the districts and the people told us of the challenges they are facing and so far nothing has changed, this creates an impression that we are useless,” said Nkosi.