Teacher strike over, but new pay row looms

As teachers trickled back to their classrooms through the week after their strike was suspended on Monday night, unions looked to be heading for a showdown with the basic education department on the ‘no work, no pay” rule.

The department’s records of teachers absenteeism during the strike could be a sticking point, the two largest teacher unions told the Mail & Guardian.

“The no work, no pay ruling is still under discussion,” said Nomusa Cembi, national spokesperson for the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu).

“The problem lies in how they keep track of these things and it has happened in previous years that monies were not deducted equitably.”

The M&G reported two weeks ago that the departmental ‘strike management plan”, intended to record teacher absences, appeared seriously flawed. Numerous schools who spoke to the newspaper said they were not keeping the records stipulated in the department’s plan.

“Hopefully the ‘no work, no pay’ rule will be applied consistently across all provinces and we have encouraged our members to have some sort of evidence to account for their whereabouts during the strike,” said Ezrah Ramasehla, president of the National Professional Teachers’ Union of South Africa (Naptosa).

“We think a problem may arise at the district level. One wonders whether they have the admin capacity to enforce this ruling and quite frankly whether they have the will to ensure it is done equitably,” Ramasehla said.

“We don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where funds are docked from one and not the other, simply because there may be a bias towards members of your own union, for example.”

Daily newspapers reported this week that the suspension of the strike had resulted in a patchy and slow resumption of teaching.

The M&G reported three weeks ago that, after the one-day strike on August 10, not all teachers returned to their classrooms immediately.

Numerous principals and school governing bodies told the M&G then that teaching had not resumed even two days later

At the time Cembi said teachers were “in the mood for a strike” and this was probably why some were not teaching immediately after the one-day strike ended.

‘“It is unfortunate that teachers were not teaching on a working day but you must understand that people are in a striking mood,” she said. “It’s difficult to strike on one day and work the next.”

Both unions told the M&G said they were eager to assist the department in implementing its recovery plan but that the thorny issue of payment could once again be an obstacle.

Said Ramasehla: “Some of our members feel they should be paid for extra work, especially since the rules stipulate that they cannot be paid while striking.”

“At the same time it is the union’s view that as professionals our members should be going the extra mile for the learners. But the problem is that after the 2007 strike the department set a precedent of paying for extra work. So we’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane

David Macfarlane is currently the Mail & Guardian's education editor. He obtained an honours degree in English literature, a fairly unpopular choice among those who'd advised him to study something that would give him a real career and a pension plan. David joined the M&G in the late 1990s. There, the publication's youth – which was nearly everyone except him – also tried to further his education. Since April 2010, he's participated in the largest expansion of education coverage the M&G Media has ever undertaken. He says he's "soon" going on "real annual leave", which will entail "switching off this smart phone the M&G youth told me I needed".  
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