THE government has pleaded with teachers to abandon their planned strike and come to the negotiating table over their long-standing demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.
This comes after the government on Tuesday appointed a special cabinet committee to avert the industrial action which the teachers have set for Monday.
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.
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 Tuesday the cabinet appointed a special 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.
They also want the government to pay salaries that are commensurate with their academic and professional qualifications as well as weed out ghost workers from the payroll.
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.
Chief ‘Maseribane told the media yesterday that the teachers’ grievances were genuine and the government was still working to resolve them.
He said the grievances were longstanding and would take time before they could be resolved. He appealed that in the meantime, the teachers should consider dropping the strike and go back to work.
Chief ‘Maseribane said the government was aware that the DDPR has granted the Lesotho Association of Teachers a license to go on a year-long industrial action that is planned pressure the authorities to cow into their demands.
“We have learned that the DDPR has granted the Lesotho Association of Teachers to go on strike that starts on 18 February 2019 to the end of the year,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.
“We wish to assure the nation that government is ready to support all the teachers who wish to carry on with their work. Government will ensure security for such teachers.
“We also wish to inform the nation that the government is still working hard to address all the teachers’ grievances because we think that they are all genuine. These problems have been inherited from the past administration and now teachers have lost the patience are pressuring the current government to address them immediately.”
Chief ‘Maseribane however, said the government will soon launch a Court of Appeal challenge to interdict the licence.
“The government, through the Ministry of Education and Training, has opened a case in the Court of Appeal to challenge the license.’
He said that the Cabinet Council has passed some amendments on the Education Act where schools principals will be hired on permanent and pensionable terms. The amendments also to reduce the teachers’ retirement age from 65 down to 60 years.
“These amendments will be tabled in the National Assembly once parliament opens,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.
He said there was significant progress in addressing some of the grievances with 114 of 186 principals remunerated for their performance contracts. He added that government has already spent up to M53 million in paying 1 978 teachers’ debts.
“We knock on the teachers’ hearts and appeal that they get back to work and impart knowledge to His Majesty’s nation. The academic year is not waiting for us and the expectation is that students should have completed the curriculum by the end. Beware that your action will send a wrong message to our children that strikes are the only way of resolving disputes,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.
‘Mapitso Molai, the LTTU general secretary last night refused to comment on the issue and said they would only speak once they have met with the new committee.