The trend among such teachers is that they go back to work within a few months of resigning. It was widely accepted that such resignations increased last year due to fears among public servants that they would no longer be entitled to a lump sum upon retirement.
Two months ago the Government Pensions Administration Agency said it recorded 4 600 resignations last November alone. The agency said the fears were sparked by unfounded rumours.
Now, in a bid to thwart the trend, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says these teachers should be last considered candidates for public school teacher posts.
In fact she believes, “in the absence of sound reason, the reappointment of persons who have resigned on reduced pension benefit shall not be deemed to be in the interest of the State.”
This position is contained in a departmental document titled “guidelines for the reappointment of teachers resigning and re-entering the system” and dated December 8 2014. Seen by the Mail & Guardian, the guidelines have been sent to provincial education departments for implementation.
Motshekga wants those responsible for appointments, a process that is legally the responsibility of school governing bodies (SGBs), to snub the resigned teachers.
“Other applicants who comply with the requirement of the post should be given preference over the persons who have already had an opportunity of an extensive career in education,” states the guidelines.
These include teachers already in the employ of schools but deemed to be in excess, graduate bursars of the department’s Funza Lushaka scheme and teachers appointed in temporary capacity, according to the document.
“Fairness and justice should prevail if the school employs an educator who has resigned at the expense of other candidates. Any form of exclusion of this category of educators would be rendered unconstitutional by the courts,” it added.
It further urged provincial education departments to “monitor on a monthly basis whether teachers who resign are re-entering the system within three years of their resignation”.
Ignorance and mistrust of the employer drove the mass resignations, says Motshekga’s office. “Lack of knowledge fuelled by rumours and a distrust of government led to a spike in the number of teachers and public servants resigning to access pensions.
“Many then sought to re-enter the profession. This has resulted in instability and threatened the commitment of provincial departments of education to ensure that there is the right teacher, at the right time, in the right class teaching effectively.”
Circular containing guidelines
The M&G has seen a circular that the Eastern Cape education department sent last month to districts, clusters, school principals and SGBs instructing implementation of the guidelines.
In the circular, Ray Tywakadi, acting head of the Eastern Cape education department, said: “It has come to the notice of the department that the number of teachers resigning to access their pensions and wanting to re-enter the profession has increased markedly and this has had a destabilising effect in our schools”.
Tywakadi called on the recipients of the circular to work with him to “curb this practice in the interest of teaching and learning”.
If there was no option other than re-employing the teachers he should grant permission, said Tywakadi.
“In the event that you have to appoint a teacher who has resigned, accessed his/ her pension and wants to now re-enter the system you’re advised to submit a detailed motivation for my consideration and final approval irrespective of whether this is temporary or permanent appointment.”
Mugwena Maluleke, general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), has told the M&G that the guidelines violate labour relations policy and won’t stand when challenged by a teacher who seeks reappointment.
“We’ve not been consulted on the guidelines. They are not going to stand the test of time in court or in any conciliation because they are contradicting what the policy is now. The policy is on a basis of a collective agreement,” said Maluleke.
A teacher blocked through the guidelines would “declare a dispute [at the Education Labour Relations Council] and say ‘I qualify. I have the qualifications and experience’. The commissioner hearing the case might find that the department has discriminated against that particular teacher. If you discriminate a teacher on basis of those guidelines it’s not going to stand,” he said.
“We need a serious solution [to the problem of teachers resigning], not an ad hoc solution. We must go back to the table to negotiate better conditions for teachers. Let’s ensure that indeed we’re able to stop these resignations in a way that can address the concerns of the teachers.”
In a bid to reverse the trend, Maluleke said Sadtu has spoken to three departments about problems that push teachers to resign.
“We have said to the department we need to educate our teachers about cashing in the pensions earlier than the retirement age because it has serious implications for our economy, but also for our education.
“We have spoken to the department of public service and administration and treasury, we’ve done everything to ensure that teachers do not resign.”