Late payday highlights plight of grade R teachers

Grade R teachers in KwaZulu-Natal were paid several days late this month — highlighting the fact that these foundation-phase educators have yet to be fully absorbed into the basic education system.

The teachers were meant to be paid their monthly stipend on April 30 but received it on Thursday.

It may still be a year or two before grade R teachers are fully absorbed into the country’s basic education system. Until then, they have to live with the anxiety of sometimes not being paid their stipends on time, not being paid at all and not receiving any annual increases.

According to teacher unions in KwaZulu-Natal, the provincial education department claimed that these teachers were not paid because their contracts had not been renewed on time. Because grade R teachers are not permanent employees of provincial education departments, they are required to have their contracts renewed every year.

But the spokesperson for the province’s education department, Muzi Mahlambi, did not confirm that this had been the reason behind the delayed payments. In response to detailed questions, Mahlambi would only confirm that the affected teachers had since been paid.

Grade R teachers in the province are paid a stipend of R6 500 a month but — as with all grade R teachers in the country — this does not come with any of the benefits such as medical aid, housing allowance and annual bonus that are enjoyed by other public school teachers.

Teacher unions in KwaZulu-Natal — the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) and the National Teachers’ Union (Natu) — have been at loggerheads with the provincial education department over a salary increase for grade R teachers.

Recently, the Mail & Guardian reported on several issues raised by the two unions about the state of education in the province, including the need to boost what grade R teachers are paid.

The unions have called for Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to intervene in the affairs of the provincial education department, warning that it was in crisis.

Following the nonpayment of the grade R teachers’ stipends on April  30, Sadtu in the province said these were “symptoms of a collapsing department”.

The executive director of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Basil Manuel, said, until grade R was made a formal part of the schooling system, teachers would continue to experience problems — which were not, incidentally, unique to KwaZulu-Natal. “We have been arguing and fighting about this for a very long time. As teacher unions, we have been saying that the people are doing the job. Many of them have qualified themselves or got the minimum qualification, so we can’t continue paying them [only] the stipend.”

He said grade R was “not recognised for staffing purposes and salary purposes as being part of the schooling system, but it is part of the schooling system.

“It is a problem that is not going to be solved if our budgets are not catering for it. All provinces have the budget for the stipend but some provinces are paying more than the others, because they have more money,” said Manuel.

The spokesperson for the basic education department, Elijah Mhlanga, agreed that there was currently no uniformity in how grade R teachers were paid and what their conditions of service were. As a result, each province dealt with them differently.

“It is an issue we are attending to … And it is because a large number of them are not qualified; they don’t have that minimum qualification in grade R teaching … they are doing the work but they are not formally employed. The grade is formal, it is recognised in the education system, but there is no formal assessment.”

He said the curriculum and the minimum qualifications for grade R teachers needed to be agreed on for them to be fully integrated into the education system. “It is one of those things that is taking long to be finalised,” said Mhlanga.

He acknowledged that grade R teachers who had the right qualifications were remunerated the same as those who did not. The government was working on formalising grade R but this process would not be finalised any time soon, said Mhlanga.

“An announcement might be made next year after the elections, but the work is continuing. I think it’s one of those things that the new minister — when that person gets to the office next year — will have to attend to.

“Because it is something that has been brought to the table, not just by education but even the ruling party itself wants to know what is happening,” said Mhlanga.

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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