Newspaper clipping – The Star – 18 August 2010

Chalk down, parents step in

Schoolchildren are being urged to go to classes as parents mobilize retired teachers and university students to fill the gap during a nationwide public servants strike.

The 245 000-strong South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) on Wednesday kicks off an indefinite strike after the breakdown of protracted wage negotiations with the government.

Other Cosatu affiliates and unions under the Independent Labour Caucus umbrella were on Tuesday night discussing the way forward with most public servants’ organizations rejecting the government’s wage offer.

The National Education Health and Allied Workers Union national executive proposed strike action to commence tomorrow, but were late on Tuesday night consulting their alliance partners in Cosatu at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council in Centurion.
            “They have failed to persuade us. The only persuasion now is what we have asked for. We’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no other way.

            “Starting tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a shutdown of all schools,” said Sadtu president Thobile Ntola.

MEC for Education Barbara Creecy has urged pupils to attend school, with a departmental contingency plan expected to be revealed today.

The National Association of Parents in School Governance (NAPSG) were on Tuesday night trying to co-opt university students and retired teachers to assist in filling the massive void which would be left by striking teachers.
            “For many of these kids, especially from the townships, the only chance they have in life is a senior certificate. This is a call to support your country,” said NAPSG president Mahlomola Kekana.

Their greatest fear was a protracted strike, as in 2007, which crippled the economy and did irreparable damage to pupils.

Kekana urged parents to report principals who skipped school or teachers who locked school gates. During the 24-hour strike last week, township schools – particularly in Soweto – were worst affected, with children who did arrive finding empty classrooms and offices.

Sadtu said they had decided on strike action as a last resort after more than seven months of negotiations with the government. Unions are demanding an 8.6 percent wage increase and a R1000 housing allowance, while the government has offered a 7 percent wage hike and R700 allowance.

The greatest concern in the education sector has been for Grade 12s who will shortly be writing their final exams.
“Don’t ask us that question. Ask the president (Jacob Zuma) and the minister of education what will happen to Grade 12s.” said Ntola.

The question of a housing allowance has been a particular sticking point in the negotiations, with unions arguing that their professionals were unable to afford shelter as they fell outside subsidized housing and could not qualify for bank loans.
“They can’t access housing for RDP, they can’t access housing through finance. They are actually in limbo,” said Ntola.

Zuma’s recent attacks on union leaders were also lambasted on Tuesday.
“We condemn the statement by Zuma,” said Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke.

Last week, the president lashed out at union leaders in an interview with SABC news, criticizing those who abused their platforms to issue political statements that had nothing to do with worker demands. He said union leaders who made statements as if they were in the opposition should be dealt with accordingly.

Zuma’s remarks came after Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi criticized the salaries of the president, his ministers and director-generals, when compared to ordinary public servants.

Ntola said the government had a “responsibility to honour the demands by workers without trivializing them. Politics cannot be separated from the struggle for labour rights.”

Across the country, a number of teachers had indicated they would not join the strike.
“I think whether to strike or not is optional. When we did a survey of our schools most teachers indicated they would be attending,” said the Governors Alliance’s Kathy Callaghan, representing a number of school governing bodies countrywide. She said schools had put in place contingency plans for safety reasons, with extra security guards on the grounds and police on standby. There have been fears that striking teachers would prevent pupils and others teachers from attending.

At Fred Norman Secondary in Ennerdale, Sadtu teachers have been discouraging pupils from entering the school.

By Beauregard Tromp