Education: Ultimatum for strikers

2009-04-30 00:00

THE provincial Education Department ordered striking staff to return to work yesterday, or face dismissal.

At a media briefing held in the department's new offices, MEC Ina Cronje and superintendent-general Cassius Lubisi said the message was sent to all employees and all SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) officials in the province. CronjŽ said she even went on radio to ensure that the message is out.

While the department could not give clear indications by yesterday on whether this call has been heeded by all striking employees, it said it did receive reports that some strikers have returned to work.

The strike started at the Pietermaritzburg service centre over a wide range of issues surrounding money, alleged racism, corruption and nepotism.

While Sadtu claims it has garnered support in other areas, the department said the strike started with only a handful of people and has not grown outside Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Calls and ultimatums issued by the department previously for all workers to return for duty have been ignored.

The union said on Monday it had not been informed of a labour court ruling last Friday declaring the strike unprotected.

At the media briefing yesterday, the department listed striking employees' grievances, many of which the department said are either absurd, or call for the disregard of the law.

"From the start we have said we are prepared to listen to the grievances. We have addressed those issues within our power, but we can't keep saying the same thing," said CronjŽ.

She said many issues like the upgrading of housing allowances for employees below salary level seven and the payment of the Occupation Specific Dispensation are being dealt with by the Public Service and Administration Department and require collective agreement at the level of the public service co-ordinating bargaining council.

"I fear that the striking employees have been misled. If you look at the so-called dispute, only a few issues relate directly to the people on strike. Often people are being used and not given the facts. But it is an unprotected strike and unfortunately the consequences are dire. They must return to work in the interest of their families and their future," she said.

Those who failed to report to work by close of business yesterday, or were unable to make presentation themselves, or through their union as to why they should not be summarily dismissed, would have been sacked by the end of the day.

Impact: Dept has contingency plans

AT a media briefing yesterday, the provincial Education Department said the strike has had adverse effects on operations, though it has contingency plans in place.

Lulama Mbobo, the senior general manager for human resources, said property and state documents have been damaged, and the processing of new appointments and payment of temporary teachers were disturbed.

"I can't say that we haven't been affected. Fortunately we have a number of buildings in the province. We had to ferry employees in so that work could proceed and not be compromised. Initially there were backlogs, which have been addressed."

She said salaries of the striking employees have been deducted daily since the start of the strike.

What is an unprotected strike?

According to Section 64 of the Labour Relations Act, every employee has the right to strike and every employer has recourse to lock out if:

* The issue in dispute has been referred to the council or the CCMA and a certificate stating that the dispute remains unresolved has been issued.

* The employer must receive in writing at least 48 hours notice for the proposed strike.

* The issues in dispute must relate to collective agreement concluded in a council, in which case notice must have been given to that council.

These were all issues the department claims were never followed by the striking employers and their union.

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