"We will play our part and make sure that we intensify our campaign to get him [Soobrayan] dismissed from the department. We will continue to call for his head and will not rest until he clears his office and goes to focus on his passion [which is] self-enrichment outside of our government," the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) said on Tuesday.
Raising the union's ire this time are comments attributed to Soobrayan in the media that older teachers should be given early retirement packages to make way for newly-graduated ones. The Sunday Times reported last weekend that Soobrayan told Parliament earlier last month about plans to bring in younger teachers to the public education sector. Teachers over 40 years of age would be earmarked for early retirement, the paper reported.
In May, Sadtu and the department smoked the peace pipe after a dispute that saw teachers belonging to the union taking to the streets. Soobrayan's axing topped Sadtu's demands at the time. The union also called for the resignation of Angie Motshekga, the department's minister, for alleged failure to sanction Soobrayan.
Sadtu now accuses Soobrayan of a "tendency of publicly announcing on policy matters without any prior engagement with all the critical stakeholders including organised labour". The union said it is "taken aback" by this.
"This behaviour in fact is vindicating us as we have always maintained that [Soobrayan] is antagonistic towards collective bargaining and does not respect nor recognise the institutions that have been designed to ensure labour peace in this critical area.
"Soobrayan is continuing to run the department of basic education as if it were a spaza shop or his personal fiefdom, forgetting that we have established institutions where such policy matters must be engaged first before pronouncements in the media."
Mugwena Maluleke, Sadtu's secretary general, told the Mail & Guardian that announcing the plan in Parliament was "not procedural". It should have been discussed in the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) with teacher unions before being presented publicly.
Campaign for Soobrayan's axing
"We're now hearing about it in the media. Journalists are asking us about the plan. We should not learn about policy changes from the media, we're a stakeholder," Maluleke said.
"Who did [Soobrayan] discuss the plan with? You consult such things with stakeholders in the ELCR so that we know the pros and cons," he added.
Maluleke said their campaign for Soobrayan's axing was suspended in May to give way for the investigation by the public service commission (PSC) into allegations against him. The PSC has been investigating Soobrayan since late 2012 over his role in the late delivery of textbooks in Limpopo.
But Sadtu is now "suspicious" about whether the investigation is afoot, said Maluleke. Clarity from the PSC about progress made has not been forthcoming, he said. "We suspect somebody is blocking the investigation. We want to know who it is and who is being protected."
Humphrey Ramafoko, spokesperson of the PSC, said he could "confirm the investigation was still happening". He was not in a position to give a completion date.
But even if the plan to offer teachers early retirement was introduced to the ELRC, Sadtu would not agree to it. " … We would reject any suggestion that experienced teachers must exit the system early to make way for new ones and one would not require the academic credentials of a nuclear scientist to see why," said the union.
'Reduce the teacher/learner ratio'
"Such a suggestion defies logic, is completely oblivious of the reality on the ground and is symptomatic of a chief accounting officer who lacks a vision and cannot see beyond the supply chain structures of the department," it said.
The union said the "reality" was that the country currently produces about 5 000 teachers a year, but "research after research has indicated that we need to yield at least 20 000 per annum".
"The question therefore is … how are we expected to reduce the teacher/learner ratio which is on average higher than required when we want experienced teachers to take an early exit from the system?"
The department was unavailable to comment at the time of publication.