The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented event and has caused death and destruction throughout the world, as a result human solidarity in acting together has become critical. It is for this reason that the Unions in the Province of KZN have agreed to stand together and act jointly.
Unions are critical stakeholders in the Education sector. Unions in the education sector do not only focus on teachers’ conditions of service but also focus on the well-being of learners and contribute to curriculum matters. It is for this reason that Unions do not fulfill the stereotypical ‘Union’ role in education.
The Unions in KZN must express their utter disappointment with the management of the closure and the re-opening of schools in the Province of KZN. The Department in the Province has failed to show leadership nor give guidance to their employees during this particularly trying time. Employees in the sector have been left to their own devices and received no support from the Department.
The complete failure to adequately consult with Unions has resulted in Unions in this Province leading the Department of Education.
In order to ascertain that the workplace is conducive to receive education workers as unions we collected information across the province as evidence of the true yet disturbing state of affairs in our schools.
Information gathered paints and horribly leak picture in that contrary to claims made by the department many schools have not been provided with adequate PPEs in relation to each school populace. We do note that about thirteen schools which were to be visited by the Leadership and Management of the department were given almost everything. This is very unfortunate as we observe that some are using our schools to popularize themselves more than improving the condition of our schools. All schools save a pocket of 5 in some district which the MEC visited have no hand washing basins installed. Few water tanks delivered in the poor and rural schools were not installed for use hence no water could be loaded. Some thermometers delivered of poor quality and cannot be utilized as they do not have batteries. in our statement on Sunday we said the department needed to do an audit of what has been received and what is given to schools. As this has not been done some districts got more than they expected. There is no uniformity and no explanation about what is given to schools. This represents the disdain with which the department has elected to treat some of our schools. We as unions shall not allow perpetration of inequalities that have painfully characterized our schooling system for years. The lives of education workers and learners remain more important than the need to save an academic year. Other community leaders demand an assurance from school principals that their children will not be infected as they are currently covid negative. These are challenges that teachers are faced with and the department has received a correspondence from school governing bodies that they are not opening schools. What should the workers in these schools do?
The Department has issued vague circulars that have caused confusion and left employees with more questions than answers. KZN Circular 28 of 2020 and KZN Circular 30 of 2020 was issued with no Union consultation. KZN Circular 30 of 2020 dated 20 May 2020 clearly indicates that the Department of Education was ready to receive District officials and Teachers safely. The Unions whose members are at the different sites reported, the scenario to be very different. The Unions in this Province can only conclude that the employer is being misinformed as to the state of readiness of this Province.
Communication was sent out dated 26 May 2020, “Appointment of school-based screeners” unions are not sure of the status of this communication as it is not as per official circular. The document requires the recruitment of school-based screeners within ONE DAY. Are we ready to receive the educators on 28 May 2020, who will screen the Educators?
The HOD of the Province had failed to communicate with the employees in the sector. The Unions cannot understand why the HOD did not issue a directive on Friday 22 May 2020, indicating the Province is not ready to receive teachers and school personnel. Employees had to wait for the Premier of the Province to give direction to educators, a day before they were due back at school.
Presently Principals are under immense pressure to pick up chemicals in quantities they are legally not authorized to transport. Principals are expected to oversee the deep cleaning, fumigation and/or disinfecting of schools. The health and lives of our Principals are not being respected. Principals are being harassed and intimidated by Circuit Managers to comply with unreasonable instructions. This is unacceptable and a violation of their labour rights. We have advised our members not to comply with unreasonable instructions and report these instructions to their Union.
Unions have noted the leadership and support the Provincial Education Departments outside KZN have shown. It is not fair for the employees in this Province to be kept in the dark and for ‘overnight circulars’ to be released that are impossible to implement.
The DBE has published Standard Operating Procedures for Teachers, Non-teaching staff and learners on Coronavirus. This Province has ignored recommendations in this document without consulting Unions or other stakeholders. Unlike other Provinces that have started collating information on educators who are over the age of 60 years and employees with comorbidities, this Province has given no direction. The Unions believe that the Departments lack of direction in this regard is indicative of their failure to support and calm the already anxious employee. The Coronavirus Orientation Guidelines for Schools published by the DBE provides guidance and Unions are advising members accordingly.
The Unions Representatives in the various Districts confirm unanimously that not all schools have received the agreed upon PPE’s, sanitization and disinfecting materials. Schools have not had existing water tanks filled neither have all schools been cleaned nor had the grass cut. Reports indicate wash-hand basins have not been delivered either. How are schools to be cleaned if they have no water? WATER not only a basic human right but at this time of the Covid-19 pandemic it is indispensable. Is this Province ready to receive teachers safely on 28 May 2020?
The Provincial Steering Committee last met on the 19 May 2020. This shows a complete disregard and disrespect of this very important Provincial structure. The function of the structure is to monitor and assess schools’ readiness to open. The indefinite postponement of this Committee meeting on two occasions leads the Unions to conclude that the Department has either chosen not to consult or refused to take the Unions into their confidence and indicate the lack of readiness to re-open the schools.
The Unions in this Province speak with one voice, we are the labour force in this Province, and we have been forced to provide leadership when none was provided.
We advise our members in the Province NOT to report to schools on 28 May 2020 because schools are not ready to receive them under the COVID-19 related protocols. We must be consistent, education in this Province will commence when ALL schools are ready to receive learners and teachers SAFELY.
We call on the Employer to work closely with us as unions so that we devise a comprehensive plan together, an exercise that will require two to three weeks of uninterrupted work. This critical time cannot afford deficit in leadership of all parties involved in education delivery. As unions, we shall continue to provide leadership for our members and the public.
Issued by the following Unions:
NAPTOSA: Provincial Chief Executive Officer, Thirona Moodley 082 382 7389
SADTU: Provincial Secretary, Nomarashiya Caluza 082 611 7027
NATU: General Secretary, C S Barnes 072 851 1311
SAOU: Provincial Chair, Innes Kritzinger 083 465 6999
PEU: Provincial Chair, Sithembiso Sithole 078 736 5241