The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) is “self-serving” and has no interest in the education of children, the Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for basic education, Wilmot James told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday.
He was responding to Sadtu’s response on Monday to the DA’s submission of a private member’s legislative proposal “to put learners first”.
James submitted the Bill to the speaker of the National Assembly on Monday. It “seeks to balance the right of teachers to strike with the learner’s right to education” and calls for legislation to be drafted that makes teachers’ right to strike subject to certain limitations.
Sadtu spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said the rights of learners and the right to strike by teachers “is not necessarily coming into conflict. Yes, we have been striking but then we hold classes for learners on Saturdays and during holidays to make up for missed lessons.”
“The DA is trying to make this look like Sadtu is against the learners. We aren’t against the learners. This is about Sadtu and the employers.”
‘Fight tooth and nail’
In a press statement on Monday she wrote: “Sadtu will fight tooth and nail to ensure that the teachers’ rights, gained through sweat and blood, are protected. We will challenge the Bill from all fronts.”
But Sadtu “is more interested in looking after its members than the education of learners”, James said. “It is self-serving.”
He continued: “I believe that it is necessary to make teachers’ right to strike subject to certain limitations, so as to ensure that this right does not conflict with children’s rights, which are constitutionally paramount.”
He pointed to section 28 of the Constitution, which states: “A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
This shows the Constitution prioritises the rights of children even as it protects those of workers, including their right to strike, he said.
One of the proposals of the Bill is that teachers’ strikes can only legally take place after consultation and agreement between government, unions and school governing bodies, including parents.
“Together, these various groups will agree on the manner in which the strike must be conducted, and the treatment of the pupils during the strike period,” the Bill proposes.
President of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Ezra Ramasehla, said: “Striking must be the last, last, last resort.”
“The right to strike by teachers must not be taken away but it must be balanced with learners rights,” he told the M&G.
Paul Colditz, chief executive officer of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, said introducing new laws to resolve the turbulent relationship between some unions, employers, and learners would not be enough.
“We need to revamp the image of the teachers profession. Unionism should not be in the new image. The image should be one of professionalism,” he said.