The teachers’ union SADTU has instructed its members not to return to work after a high-level meeting between it and the Department of Basic Education collapsed on Saturday.
The 250 000-strong teachers’ union General Secretary Muguena Maluleke said the Basic Education has failed to meet its non-negotiables, which include the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for office-based personnel, school-based educators and education support personnel.
Maluleke said SADTU has since advised its members to remain at home until further notice. School Management Teams (SMTs) were scheduled to return to work on Monday, while teachers were expected back on May 18.
“We have taken a decision based on the responsibility we have to ensure that the occupation, education and health safety of workers is important,” said Maluleke in an interview with Inside Education on Monday
“Therefore, we have asked them not to return to work today as the school management team because as far as we understand, the Minister was going to come back to us today and report back in terms of the readiness of the provinces to provide what the Department of Employment and Labour had prescribed as essential requirements, such as the screenings, the masks, the sanitizing and the cleaning of the offices as well as schools. That has not been done.”
Maluleke said the teachers’ union had a moral obligation to advise its members not to return to school until their safety was guaranteed.
“The provinces are not ready and therefore it was going to be an irresponsible act from our side if we let them go back and expose themselves to a possible transmission of the virus, because they would not be protected if they returned today as the delivering of protective equipment among others has not taken place,” said Maluleke.
Government’s guidelines call for schools to reopen in a second phase of recovery, after symptoms and cases of COVID-19 in a province or region have been on the decline for at least two 14-day periods.
Maluleke said as soon as the deliveries of PPEs are done, “we can call the school principals to confirm that the deliveries are done and then the SMTs can go back but not today.”
Many teachers in South Africa are scared of going back to school too early, and teachers unions are also cautioning against it.
They also fear for the safety and well-being of students who rely on schools for food, health care, social services and emotional stability
Health experts have warned that even if COVID-19 cases abated, a second wave of infection could arrive with the flu season about to start in a few weeks.
Maluleke said Saturday’s meeting with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga reached a deadlock because the department failed to persuade the union that it would deliver on non-negotiables.
“We called a meeting because we were seeing a lot of contradictions from provinces and we were beginning to have fears that at the end of the day, if we don’t intervene and meet with the Minister, we will end up having a chaotic reopening of schools”, said Maluleke.
“We told the Minister that we have taken the decision to ask our members not to return to work until the department gives a clear indication that all is well for SMTs to return,” said Maluleke.
Department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the minister met with various stakeholders on Monday to consider various reports on the state of readiness for schools to re-open.
“The Minister of Basic Education Mrs Angie Motshekga
has today held a series of scheduled meetings with stakeholders in the basic
education sector. The purpose of the meetings were to consider the state of
readiness for the reopening of schools,” said Mhlanga.
“The first meeting was that of the Council of Education Ministers (Ministers and MECs). This was followed by another meeting with the leadership of teacher unions. The last session was held with the School Governing Body Associations and the South African Principals Association.
These consultative sessions happened ahead of the Minister’s return to the National Coronavirus Command Council set to take place on Tuesday, May 12. Cabinet is also scheduled to sit on Wednesday where it is expected that the Recovery Plan of the Education Sector will also be discussed.”
Mhlanga said the Minister will brief the media on Thursday on the preparations towards the reopening of schools.
SADTU’s secretariat officer, Xolani Fakude, told eNCA on Monday that Basic Education has not shown any evidence as yet suggesting that it is ready to receive the administration staff at schools.
“It is our very strong view as SADTU that the department has not shown any evidence as yet to suggest that it is ready to receive the first cohort of education workers into the school environment”, said Fakude.
“The disinfecting process of schools and offices has not even reached 25%. It is unlawful to expect workers to report for duty when their safety is not guaranteed.”
Meanwhile, Provincial Departments of Education in KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape have also urged their SMT workers not to return to schools this week.
KZN Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu said the province has opted for teachers not to return to schools yet.
“We have done this in order to allow for the space for the deep cleaning and sanitisation of our schools, which is part of the non-negotiables agreed by all stakeholders in the sector,” said Mshengu.
“This does not mean that the province of KwaZulu-Natal will not be ready for the return of learners on 1st of June. We prioritise at all times the safety of the learners as well as the educators.”
(Compiled Inside Education staff)