Outcry over move to classify education an essential service
Teachers unions and Equal Education say it will take away teachers’ right to strike and won’t solve any of the real problems facing education
The government can classify basic education as an essential service once every school has a laboratory‚ library and a teacher in every classroom.
That is the view of National Teachers Union (Natu) deputy president Allen Thompson, who believes the government is trying to silence teachers and to keep itself busy by investigating if basic education should be deemed an essential service.
On June 15‚ the Department of Labour’s Essential Services Committee gazetted a notice to announce it was looking into classifying basic education as an essential service under the Labour Relations Act (LRA).
The LRA defines an essential service as "a service the interruption of which endangers the life‚ personal safety or health of the whole or any part of the population".
Education movement Equal Education (EE) is opposed to this‚ because government can then prohibit teachers from striking.
EE added that the move by government would not solve the problems of poor infrastructure‚ insufficient resources and overcrowding.
"Declaring education an essential service undermines the legitimacy of the grievances that teachers try to raise‚ through the right to strike‚ including poor working conditions‚ lack of teaching resources‚ and low remuneration."
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) executive director Basil Manuel agrees and believes the investigation is detracting from challenges regarding resources.
"It doesn’t give more money. It doesn’t give more resources. It doesn’t assist with upgrading of teachers. It is just a statement on paper."
Manuel believes education is not an essential service‚ because no lives and properties are at risk when teachers strike.
"More has been done in damages by service delivery protests."
EE said it was aware that teachers carried a tremendous responsibility towards learners‚ but could not ignore that the teaching profession was faced with challenges such as teacher absenteeism‚ poor subject content knowledge‚ and "corruption in the appointment of principals"‚ among others.
"As a country‚ we need to interrogate and address the causes that leave teachers dissatisfied with their income‚ their work environment and with the Department of Basic Education‚ to the detriment of learners."
EE said that if education became an essential service‚ government could fire teachers in large numbers.
"The mass dismissal of educators will have negative consequences on the education of children and their best interests."
EE added that other essential services’ employees such as doctors‚ nurses and police officers have gone on strike despite government’s deterrents.