Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) and the National Teachers Union (Natu) are threatening industrial action in KwaZulu-Natal at the opening of the 2017 school year if the salaries and the working conditions of Grade R teachers are not improved.

The province has about 5,200 Grade R teachers who earn R7,000 but get none of the benefits enjoyed by other teachers such as medical aid, a 13th cheque, maternity and leave pay.

The unions says the employment conditions of Grade R teachers are exploitive and the province’s education department needs to change them as soon as possible to bring them in line with other employees in the department.

Sadtu says it held a meeting with Grade R teachers two weeks ago where they listed their grievances.

On Friday Bheki Shandu, the union’s deputy secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, said the union was demanding Grade R teachers’ salaries be increased to R8,000, backdated to April 2016; and that they receive bonuses, to be paid in December, so that they "can take care of their own families during the festive season".

"We are also saying that those teachers who have M+3 qualifications be absorbed into the system and be paid like normal teachers.

"If these demands are not met in January, the central executive committee (CEC) of Sadtu has empowered the province to begin the process that will lead to us taking to the streets in early February and could eventually lead to a strike."

He said the provincial education department had shown willingness to negotiate in order to meet some of these demands.

Natu said it had asked for an urgent meeting with the department’s newly appointed head, Enoch Nzama, to sort out the Grade R issue.

Allen Thompson, Natu’s deputy president and spokesman, said Grade R teachers and their families would have a bleak Christmas due to their low salaries and poor working conditions.

"We feel that for far too long the government has not prioritised issues affecting Grade R educators. Why can’t they be paid like any other teacher? Why do they need to be paid stipends of R7,000? Why can’t they have benefits — medical aid, pension, leave and other allowances?" asked Thompson.

He said the recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed the importance of education in the early years.

"So why is the department not prioritising Grade R educators? All other teachers will be paid this week, and there is no single agreement on the Grade R educators," Thompson said.

Muzi Mahlambi, spokesman for the KwaZulu-Natal education department, was not available for comment on Friday.

But he told journalists recently that his department was in talks with the unions on many issues, including Grade R teachers.

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