Teach­ing not an es­sen­tial ser­vice, says com­mit­tee

Com­mit­tee up­holds teach­ers’ right to strike af­ter DA wanted to have a min­i­mum ser­vice level de­clared for schools

Business Day - - FRONT PAGE - Ta­mar Kahn [email protected]­nesslive.co.za

The es­sen­tial ser­vices com­mit­tee has de­ter­mined that school man­agers and sup­port staff are not es­sen­tial ser­vices, ef­fec­tively up­hold­ing their right to strike. But it has de­clared a small group of ser­vices pro­vided at board­ing schools to be so, in or­der to pro­tect learn­ers in the event of in­dus­trial ac­tion. Only board­ing house par­ents, sana­to­rium ser­vices and se­cu­rity at board­ing schools have been des­ig­nated es­sen­tial ser­vices.

The es­sen­tial ser­vices com­mit­tee has de­ter­mined that school man­agers and sup­port staff are not es­sen­tial ser­vices, ef­fec­tively up­hold­ing their right to strike.

But it has de­clared a small group of ser­vices pro­vided at board­ing schools to be so, in or­der to pro­tect pupils in the event of in­dus­trial ac­tion. Only board­ing house par­ents, sana­to­rium ser­vices and se­cu­rity at board­ing schools have been des­ig­nated es­sen­tial ser­vices.

The Labour Re­la­tions Act de­fines an es­sen­tial ser­vice as one that, if in­ter­rupted, would en­dan­ger the life, safety or health of all or part of the pop­u­la­tion. Work­ers deemed to ren­der es­sen­tial ser­vices have a lim­ited right to strike.

The act es­tab­lished the es­sen­tial ser­vices com­mit­tee, which de­ter­mines which ser­vices are es­sen­tial. It has de­clared 18 ser­vices to be such, in­clud­ing air traf­fic con­trol, blood trans­fu­sion ser­vices, fire­fight­ers and emer­gency health ser­vices. The com­mit­tee’s lat­est de­ci­sion, handed down on Novem­ber 5, fol­lows an in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­quested by the DA to limit teach­ers’ right to strike.

The DA sought to have a min­i­mum ser­vice level de­clared for schools, which it said would en­sure pupils were safe and se­cure dur­ing a strike. It wanted school prin­ci­pals and se­nior man­agers to be avail­able dur­ing strikes to en­sure pupils were prop­erly su­per­vised, said its deputy ed­u­ca­tion spokesper­son Nomsa March­esi. The party would de­cide whether to ap­peal against the de­ci­sion or pur­sue other av­enues to try to im­prove the safe­guards for pupils when teach­ers went on strike, she said.

Wild­cat strikes posed more of a prob­lem than pro­tected strikes, as par­ents did not have suf­fi­cient warn­ing to make plans for their chil­dren.

“A large num­ber of learn­ers are left un­safe dur­ing wild­cat strikes,” she said.

The ANC has pre­vi­ously called for teach­ing to be de­clared an es­sen­tial ser­vice, but the pro­posal was shot down by teacher unions, which de­scribed it as un­con­sti­tu­tional.

The com­mit­tee said there was no ba­sis in law to des­ig­nate ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion as an es­sen­tial ser­vice or to limit or pro­hibit the right of prin­ci­pals and deputy prin­ci­pals to strike.

“Any leg­is­la­tion, let alone an es­sen­tial ser­vices com­mit­tee des­ig­na­tion, declar­ing ba­sic ed­u­ca­tion an es­sen­tial ser­vice may well be chal­lenged in the courts and ILO [In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­gan­i­sa­tion],” it said.

In terms of in­ter­na­tional law, the pos­si­ble long-term con­se­quences of teacher strikes did not jus­tify their pro­hi­bi­tion, and it could not over­ride SA’s global obli­ga­tions, it said. School man­agers alone would not be able to en­sure the safety of learn­ers, given their num­bers, it said.

The com­mit­tee said cater­ing and clean­ing ser­vices were not to be des­ig­nated as es­sen­tial ser­vices be­cause in the event of a pro­tected strike, there was time to make al­ter­na­tive plans.

Its de­ci­sion was wel­comed by the SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union (Sadtu), which said the DA’s sub­mis­sion was an at­tack on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing and labour peace.

Sadtu said the DA had wasted tax­pay­ers money by call­ing for the es­sen­tial ser­vices com­mit­tee to in­ves­ti­gate the mat­ter, and had no re­gard for labour rights.

IN TERMS OF IN­TER­NA­TIONAL LAW, THE POS­SI­BLE LONGTERM CON­SE­QUENCES OF TEACHER STRIKES DID NOT JUS­TIFY THEIR PRO­HI­BI­TION

/Te­bogo Let­sie

Putting own in­ter­ests first: The SA Demo­cratic Teach­ers Union has wel­comed the rul­ing al­low­ing strikes af­ter the com­mit­tee ruled that school man­agers are not an es­sen­tial ser­vice.

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