Skip work and you break the law, teachers warned
KWAZULU-NATAL Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu has taken a hard line against unions directing their members not to report for duty today, saying teachers were employees of the Department of Education and failure to report would be breaking the law.
His statement comes as the department faces off with unions as plans to restart the school calendar are thrown into further chaos.
Unions are adamant that schools are unsafe and teachers should stay away. However, the department said everything was in place for safe reopening on June 1.
About 90 000 teachers from more than 6 000 schools across the province are expected to return to work today.
Mshengu would not disclose how teachers would be sanctioned if they failed to report for duty.
“We are going to continue to engage with the unions in hopes of coming to an agreement, but we are standing firm on our position. We want to remind the teachers that they are employees of the department, and since President Cyril Ramaphosa has spoken, they would be breaking the law if they fail to arrive for work,” he said.
“If the unions have identified a school that is not ready, there should be a discussion about that school. It should not be that if there is one school that is not ready in one part of the province, everyone stays home.
“We are very comfortable with the work the government has done. Our schools are ready. If there are any hiccups, it will be with very few schools and those will be addressed during the weekend,” added Mshengu.
He said they had done their utmost to ensure the safety of teachers and pupils at schools.
“We have purchased six months’ stock of personal protective equipment. We do not foresee any challenges unless the stock is stolen.”
He said he understood teachers might be afraid: “We want to assure them the department has taken every precaution to keep them safe.”
He also urged parents to play their role in ensuring that pupils were safe when outside school.
“Parents should ensure that children do not wander around the street and put themselves at risk of getting the virus. We know there are pupils who drink and could catch the virus while drinking, and then claim they got it in schools.
“And there are teachers who do not respect themselves who drink the whole weekend.
“When they catch the virus, they too will claim they were infected at schools,” he said.
In a joint statement from teacher unions, Sadtu, Natu, Naptosa, SAOU and PEU advised their members not to report to schools today.
“Schools are not ready to receive them under the Covid-19-related protocols. We must be consistent; education in this province will commence when all schools are ready to receive pupils and teachers safely.”
The unions said they had conducted their research to determine the state of readiness and what they found portrayed a disturbing state of affairs contrary to the department’s claims.
“We do note that about 13 schools that were to be visited by the leadership and management of the department were given almost everything. Some are using our schools to popularise themselves more than improving the condition of our schools,” said the statement.
Natu president Allen Thompson said yesterday that the department issued a circular detailing the appointment of the people who would be responsible for screening at schools.
“If they are only advertising for the appointment now, it means there will be no one to screen teachers today.
“That person will still need to be trained.
“We do not want a repeat of what we saw in the Western Cape where the department dragged teachers kicking and screaming back to school, only for them to get infected,” he said.
The president of the Educators Union of South Africa, Scelo Bhengu, said: “We have called for testing of teachers and pupils before they are brought back together to school to make sure everyone in school is healthy.”