Sihle Zikalala

Teaching should be made an essential service to avoid disruptions to schools during strikes by teachers, says the ANC’s KwaZulu-Natal secretary, Sihle Zikalala.

He was speaking to the Daily News after the release last week of a list of resolutions made by the party’s newly-elected provincial executive committee at the ANC’s seventh provincial conference last month.

The teaching proposal was one of the recommendations, and Zikalala said it would now be discussed at the party’s national policy conference to be held in Gauteng later this month. The KZN leadership would try to convince ANC delegates from other provinces on its merits, with the hope that it would be adopted as a policy, he said.

An essential service, according to the government, refers to a service which, if interrupted, would endanger or inconvenience the life or the health of people. It includes the health sector and electricity services.

Zikalala said teachers usually went on strike close to trial or final matric examinations, when the effects would be most felt. Making teaching an essential service would result in teachers being unable to strike.

“This is about the future of our society,” he said. “We just hope that the resolution gets support from other provinces.”

Previous protracted public servant strikes have had a ripple effect on education. In 2007, a strike which took teachers out of the classroom for almost a month close to the end of the academic year resulted in the overall matric pass rate falling.

For the KZN resolution to come into force, it would need to be put into the resolutions of the conference, and taken to the ANC’s elective national conference in Mangaung in December, where the final adoption of policy would take place.

An application then would need to be made to the essential service committee, governed by the Labour Relations Act, for determination that a service is essential.

Previously, the DA has made calls for education to be declared an essential service.

However, there’s been mixed reaction to the ANC resolution, with the ANC-aligned SA Democratic Teachers’ Union calling it “nonsensical”.

“It is impossible and it will never happen,” said the union’s KZN secretary Mbuyiseni Mathonsi. “Does the person who came up with the resolution even know what is an essential service?”

Anthony Pierce, provincial chief executive of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA, said the right to strike was recognised in most countries, and that essential services in SA were defined.

“Education does not fall in the realm of essential services,” he said. “None of the teacher unions has blood rushing to their heads and get up in the morning and decide to go on strike.”

National Teachers’ Union (Natu) deputy president Allen Thompson blamed the government, saying strikes were usually held towards the end of the year because salary and other negotiations tended to drag on for months.

However, the chairman for the south Durban region of the KZN Parents’ Association, Vee Gani, welcomed the resolution, saying that while teachers had the right to strike, it was done at the expense of the pupils. - Daily News

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