Making right distinctions

The issue that is prominent in every teacher’s mind is occupation-specific dispensation (OSD). Following last year’s crippling public service strike the state was forced to review salary scales and grades of various sectors within the public service, including the teaching profession.

Thabo Mohlala speaks to Firoz Patel, deputy director general of systems, planning and monitoring in the national department of education. This is an edited version of the interview.

TM: What is OSD?

FP: Government has, through public service and administration, undertaken a personnel expenditure review as well as personnel remuneration review. Out of the review it emerged that within the public service we had to look at differentiating occupations. In the public service you find that nurses, legal professionals, police, correctional services and teachers are all under the same scales and same number of grades.

We needed to find occupation-specific dispensation that is unique to the education system. We need one that is specific to our own educational needs.

TM: In which way would it benefit teachers?

FP: Firstly, the issue is that education is the number one priority in our country. With OSD we can look at where the high demands areas are, where the supply issues are in terms of learning and teaching and be able to remunerate teachers accordingly without clumping all public service sectors together.

Secondly, we have specific career-pathing for teachers, which takes the teaching situation into account, unlike bureaucratic administrative people. In this way teachers would particularly benefit. Also we are able to implement different conditions that suit education.

TM: Would all teachers benefit from this initiative or would only some categories of them? How would OSD help promote quality?

FP: The principles of OSD are, among others, to look at teachers and their circumstances in terms of their experience. So it must take experience, performance and qualifications into account. The more experienced a teacher is, the more qualified he/she is and the higher he/she performs. We should be able to give such teachers triple rewards.

TM: I know that negotiations are still continuing between employer and teacher unions concerning OSD. Can you tell us the reasons that delayed its implementation?

FP: The Public Service Bargaining Council (PSBC) resolved that as the education sector we had to finalise our agreement by December 2007 so it could be implemented by the beginning of 2008. Unfortunately, negotiations did not culminate in an agreement. We had to revert back to PSBC and tabled our proposals, taking into account all the concerns that educators raised. By and large their substantive financial concerns have been dealt with. With regard to how we measure quality we could not resolve that particular matter in time. The PSBC has asked both parties to go back to the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) to reach an agreement through a facilitation process. We have been given until the middle of February and we are in the process of convening those meetings through the ELRC.

TM: So it should be in effect by April or thereabouts?

FP:The sooner the better. It will take at least between six weeks and two months before educators will see the pay in their pockets. If we reach agreement end of March, then yes, it would be April. If we reach agreement by the end of February, then we are hoping that we can get money in their pay packets by the end of March.

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