DEBATE raged yesterday in the Eastern Cape over a proposal by the ANC to have education categorised as an essential service.Some education interest groups welcomed it, while others said rigorous debate was required first.
Education portfolio committee chairman Mzoleli Mrara, an ANC MPL, said the proposal had been discussed at the ANC policy conference in Mangaung in December last year and it was agreed further engagements were needed.
“My opinion is there must be measures to find solutions but having education declared an essential service, like health, when there is no immediate danger cannot be correct.
“This cannot be a solution to stabilise education in the province and country.”
Mrara said labour issues should be resolved in open discussions and the ANC, working with education stakeholders, should focus on rectifying the:
- Fragmented education system, characterised by divisions along racial lines with former Model C schools still dominated by “whites only” governing bodies and managers;
- Skewed curriculum with junior and senior primary schools offering curriculums that were not aligned; and
- Human resource disparities such as poorly equipped teachers in predominately black schools characterised by huge backlogs, compared with their former Model C counterparts.
“These are the things, not strike action, we should be preoccupied with. They destabilise the system.
“We need to discuss these fundamentals and we must not be scared to venture into discussions and face difficult questions.
“Such arrogance creates animosity and we cannot afford to have another Marikana,” Mrara said.
A COPE MPL, Angela Woodhall, the party’s education spokeswoman, said it was time to improve the teaching profession.
“The unions need to take on board a commitment to education that will ensure the talents of our young people are developed enabling them to flourish. We want schools where teachers and pupils alike look forward to attending. That is a worthy cause.”
DA MPL Edmund van Vuuren said the move was long overdue.
“It’s about children whose lives are put in danger when teachers are not in class. Children have been attacked, raped and robbed without supervision from teachers who are protesting.”
Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) acting co-director Jay Kruuse said: “Education won’t meet the requirements of being an ‘essential service’ [sections 71 to 75 of the Labour Relations Act apply].
“The ANC cannot take such a decision – it’s really a legal question decided upon by applying the facts to the statute. What the ANC’s decision reveals is yet another violation of scholars’ rights which has its origins in the tripartite alliance.
“Instead of dealing with the demands of striking teachers in accordance with the law, politicians often compromise themselves and the quality of teaching by making decisions driven by what is politically expedient.”
East London education expert Dr Ken Alston said: “Children have become victims of action by the unions.
“The Constitution is clear the best interests of the child are paramount in every matter concerning the child.
“Teacher strikes, absenteeism, teaching short hours are all issues which work against the child’s best interests.
“This is not about a union’s best interests or its members, but about the best interests of children.”
Independent expert Graeme Bloch said: “I hope teachers are listening: even the ANC is getting gatvol.
“While the actual solution will probably not fly, teachers need to ask their unions to get with the programme, and strikes can no longer be anything but a last option.”
Essential staff can’t strike
THE Labour Relations Act (LRA) prohibits workers in essential services to go on strike.
The Public Service Accountability Monitor head of monitoring and advocacy program and acting co-director, Jay Kruuse, said that the LRA determines that no one may take part in a strike or a lockout if engaged in an essential or maintenance service.
Section 213 of 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;
- The Parliamentary Service; and The South African Police Service (SAPS).
But Kruuse said there was a Constitutional Court decision which distinguished between members of police who are part of the essential service, and others who are not part and who can therefore strike.
A “maintenance service” is defined as a service that could affect material physical destruction to any working area, plant or machinery. Kruuse said the LRA also provided for the establishment of “essential service committees” to probe whether a service should be designated as essential.
Such committees must invite interested parties to make representations and after considering the representations must decide whether a service or part of it is essential.
Kruuse said a quick search showed electrical, safety and security services at all SA airports; old age homes registered in terms of the National Welfare Act; services provided by children’s homes and places of care were among those designated as essential services.
Others included people dealing with regulations and control of air traffic, and government systems such as payroll, health and social services.