News24

Teaching an 'essential service'

2010-02-15 19:11

Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance has submitted an application for teaching to be declared an essential service, spokesperson James Lorimer said on Monday.

The application had been submitted to the essential services committee, which fell under the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) at the labour department.

The committee was required, when it received such an application, to follow certain processes, including calling for public submissions and holding a public consultation process.

"We will be participating in all these processes to ensure that our argument is heard," Lorimer said.

The DA's argument for making the application included that the Labour Relations Act defined an essential service as a "service which, if interrupted, would endanger or inconvenience the life or the health of people".

Teaching was not currently listed as an essential service under this act.

The DA contested that, given the crisis the education system was in and the significant, life-altering, inconvenience this caused for children, teaching should be, at least until the system improved, declared an essential service.

Low standards

South African children received one of the worst standards of education in the world - a fact confirmed by a variety of studies.

"There are many reasons for this, but it is certain that nothing can be done to improve the situation without first having all teachers in their classrooms for all the hours that their contracts require them to be there.

"But this is not the case in South Africa. While not all absenteeism from the classroom is caused by strikes, strikes play a large role," Lorimer said.

According to a study by Tokiso, an independent dispute resolution company, the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu), the single largest union representing teachers, was responsible for 42% of all workdays lost between 1995 and 2009.

Actions during strikes included tearing up exam papers following a memorandum from one trade union telling its workers to ensure that "no exams take place at any school".

The consequences of attempting to obtain an education in this environment created enormous inconvenience to the lives of learners, as well as to their parents, and the teachers, principals and other role-players who were genuinely trying to create a positive learning environment.

"While the DA does believe that the right to strike is a key component of a democratic state, it is also a right that can be limited in certain cases. It is limited, rightly, in the case of health and police workers.

"But the depth of the crisis facing education makes is important and necessary, we believe, to extend these limitations to teachers, until such time as the quality of education has improved significantly.

"There are other mechanisms, including marches and demonstrations outside of schooling hours, that can be used by teachers to make their voices heard," Lorimer said.