Sishi scrambles to pay striking teachers

2013-09-05 00:00

THE KwaZulu-Natal Education Department will have to rob Peter in order to pay Paul if the thousands owed to striking teachers is to be paid.

At the same time, the department has admitted that teachers’ claims were justified.

Head of the Education Department Nkosinathi Sishi yesterday hinted that he may be forced to take money from the department’s infrastructure budget to pay monies owed to the teachers in the next few days.

“I will make sure that I get money from the budget. If I go to jail, so be it,” Sishi told finance portfolio committee when the department’s expenditure in the last financial year was scrutinised.

“I have to get the teachers back to classes,” he said in reference to his hopes of ending the strike by the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

The union downed tools on Monday demanding back pay, pay progression, and the immediate suspension of Sishi.

It said its members were owed over R120 million in back pay due to illegal salary deductions as a result of the “no work no pay” rule applied to the 2011 strike, among other things.

Speaking to the committee, Sishi said the department may have to dig deep from its infrastructure budget to pay money owed to the teachers.

“We don’t have that money, that’s why Treasury says we must cut from the infrastructure budget.”

This was, however, dependent on MEC Senzo Mchunu and Treasury agreeing to it.

Sishi’s statements are an about-turn from his previous opposition to advice from a provincial Treasury official, that the department must cut from its infrastructure budget to ease some of its financial pressures because the provincial government did not have money to bail it out. The department faced an R8 billion infrastructure backlog, he said previously.

At yesterday’s meeting, the committee heard that the department, with 800 vacant posts, was underfunded and calls were made for the review of departmental allocations and an increase to the Education Department budget.

In an interview yesterday, Sishi said the strike by teachers was a symptom of underfunding experienced by his department and that the teachers’ demands were genuine. “What the teachers are demanding is correct. Those monies are owed to them. Most of the things are owed to them,” he added.

He said the department owed its employees nearly R360 million that it could not pay due to lack of funds. Of this, R24 million is owed to therapists working with schools.

However, Sishi scoffed at Sadtu’s demand that he be suspended from his job and likened the demand to calls made by striking employees to remove the chief executive officer of a company where no funds were available to pay them.

He said Mchunu and Sadtu were still engaging in the matters raised by the union, and commended Sadtu for not disrupting examinations yesterday.

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