Cabinet deliberates on teachers

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Mohalenyane Phakela

THE ministerial subcommittee tasked with resolving the impasse between teachers and the government will today table the demands of the teachers before the cabinet.

Today’s meeting comes after the sub-committee met with leaders of the teachers’ union on 23 February and agreed that they would forward the teachers’ demands to the cabinet.

Teachers have gone on strike to press the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions.

Last Saturday, the teachers told the ministerial sub-committee that they would only engage in negotiations to halt the strike if the government committed to granting them an eight percent salary increment starting from the next financial year. They also demanded that those who were fired for striking should be reinstated and that the government withdraws all its legal battles against teachers.

The strike, which began on 18 February, has affected learning in most of the 1800 government schools around the country with pupils being sent home as a result of the absence of their teachers.

Apart from salary increments, the teachers also want the government to hold regular training sessions for teachers to familiarise them with new curriculum. The teachers also want an adequate supply of teaching materials and text books for the learners.

They also want the government to reinstate the Lesotho Teachers’ Association (LAT) Chairperson, Letsatsi Ntsibolane who was fired from his teaching duties at Lithabaneng High School in Maseru. Mr Ntsibolane was on 30 January this year fired for neglecting performing his duties by announcing an illegal teachers’ strike and absenting himself on the days of the illegal strike.

The teachers said they would down tools for three weeks and teach learners only for one week in a month until their grievances were addressed. They said the cycle would continue for a year unless the government yielded to their demands.

In an effort to avert the industrial action two weeks ago, the government set up a special cabinet committee to help the Minister of Education and Training, Professor Ntoi Rapapa to address the teachers’ complaints which include demands for the government to pay them salary arrears on their performance-based contracts dating back to 2009.

The committee is chaired by the Minister of Communications, Science and Technology, Thesele ‘Maseribane. Other members of the committee are Prof Rapapa; Public Service Minister, Semano Sekatle; Defence Minister, Tefo Mapesela; Minister of Energy, Tsukutlane Au, Minister of Finance, Moeketsi Majoro and the Minister of Home Affairs, Mokoto Hloaele.

In a frantic move to block the strike, the government also launched an appeal case against the DDPR’s permission for the strike.

However, the teachers then accused the government of negotiating in bad faith and are now demanding that the government withdraws its legal challenge before they can negotiate.

Prof Rapapa told the Lesotho Times this week that the sub-committee’s meeting with the cabinet is expected to yield a lasting solution to the ongoing education problem.

“The ministerial sub-committee tasked to handle the teachers issues will on Thursday present to the cabinet what transpired between their meetings with teachers unions’ representatives,” Prof Rapapa said.

“It would be premature for me to say what will happen thereafter but the expectation is that from the meeting, we will have a lasting solution to the ongoing problems within the teaching service. It is only after that meeting that we will know the way forward.”

On the other hand, the leader of opposition party Movement for Economic Change (MEC), Selibe Mochoboroane, has urged the government to include the teachers’ demands in the budget. He also accused the government of failing to execute its role in addressing the teachers’ grievances.

“The truth which we are not shunning away from is that the current government is messing up. Their approach to the teachers’ issue is wrong and we are advising them to work together in ensuring that their negotiations with teachers should be in such way that their concerns are included in the 2019/20 budget which will be presented on Friday (tomorrow).

“This strike is affecting our children’s education. The most painful thing is that most of politicians’ children do not learn locally and this negatively affects our judgement. We are failing to understand that the quality of education should not be compromised.

“Issuing two opposing statements immediately after closed negotiations is a clear indication that they both did not go into negotiations in good faith. The government is not handling this issue in the best possible way and our advice is simple, the budget must be passed in parliament but it should include the teachers’ concerns.”

Mr Mochoboroane’s statement comes on the back of the Ministry of Education’s release of a statement ordering striking teachers to return to work on 25 February 2019. However, this came against the ongoing negotiation process between the union leaders and the subcommittee.

Three teachers’ unions, namely the Lesotho Teacher’s Association (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and Lesotho Schools

Principals Association (LeSPA, obtained the Directorate of Disputes Prevention and Resolution (DDPR’s) permission to strike earlier this month.

The DDPR had initially declined to issue the certificate on the grounds that unions constituted a minority of the country’s teachers and therefore could not engage in a strike.

But Labour Court judge, Justice Keketso Moahloli, ruled that the unions had the right to strike. Justice Moahloli ruled that the DDPR had no power to determine whether or not the teachers could strike and sent them back to the DDPR to complete the process which would clear them to proceed with the industrial action.

In the aftermath of the Labour Court ruling, members of the unions gathered at the at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru where they were addressed by one of their leaders, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, who said there was “no going back on the strike”.

And on the 18th of this month, the teachers made good on their threat of their industrial action which they say will last for a year. Many learners remained in their homes while others who tried their luck were sent back indefinitely.

The majority of government schools have remained closed since then.

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