TEACHERS have resolved to go on a month-long nationwide strike with effect from 2 August this year to force the government to address their demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.
The job action comes at a time when the government is been battling to contain an increasingly restive workforce. Workers from different sectors have either struck or threatened to strike as they feel the government and their employers are not doing enough to award wage increments that will cushion them against the economic challenges brought on price increases of goods and services.
The teacher’s industrial action will prevent learning from taking place as it has been timed to coincide with scheduled re-opening of schools after the winter break.
The teachers said that they will not hesitate to indefinitely extend the planned strike if government will not have addressed their grievances by 2 September.
The teachers, who have coalesced under the Lesotho Teacher’s Association (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and Lesotho Schools Principals Association (LeSPA), reiterated their decision to go on strike at a press conference in Maseru this week.
They first announced that they would down tools in a letter to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane last week. They said they had resolved to strike after a government task force led by the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, failed to timeously attend to their grievances.
“We wish to inform your good office that despite your instruction in our (20 June) meeting that the Government Secretary speedily provides an audience to address our grievances, sadly the instruction is in vain, as he (Mr Mphaka) and his team have not given this matter the urgency and seriousness it deserves,” reads part of the teachers’ letter dated 13 July 2018.
“On the foregoing grounds, we wish to inform your good office that subsequent to all dialogue avenues we exploited with all the patience on earth, we have no other alternative but not to report to work countrywide from August 2 to September 2 until the government has addressed our grievances.
“This timeframe is subject to extension depending on the positive and cogent response of government on this matter.”
The industrial action comes after several meetings between leaders of teachers’ unions and the Education and Training minister, Ntoi Rapapa.
Professor Rapapa said that government was doing all it could to attend to the teachers’ grievances.
On his part, Mr Mphaka said that it was “quite sad that things had come to this when the government is trying to work on the (teachers’) grievances”.
“The government is still committed (to addressing the teachers’ grievances) and whatever decision shall be reached should be in the interests of all parties.
“It is also unfair on me and my team as well as the Prime Minister to be accused of delaying when there are people who are being paid to do this job. This is Mr Rapapa’s business and his team, not mine,” Mr Mphaka told the Lesotho Times.
He hinted that government would act to ensure that schools would open and lessons would be conducted as normal when he said that “the government has an obligation to see to it that scholars are not denied their right to education and their studies not affected”.
Prof Rapapa expressed similar sentiments, saying, “I expect schools to be open as scheduled without fail”.
“The strike is unacceptable and unfair as some of the teachers’ grievances are already being dealt with.
“This is an issue of concern that learning could be disrupted and I plead with teachers to be patient until all their grievances have been met as some of them need more time to be addressed,” Mr Rapapa said.
Government spokesperson Nthakeng Selinyane added his voice to the issue, saying that the “government is committed to fulfilling its promise of providing answers to the teachers by the end of this month and that is a time frame which is not past yet”.
Should the strike go ahead, it will be the second time the teachers would have embarked on industrial action this year.
The teachers also abandoned their classrooms in March and staged countrywide demonstrations, with the biggest being the protest march in Maseru.
Again in May, thousands of disgruntled teachers petitioned Dr Thabane over payment issues amid indications that their talks with Prof Rapapa failed to yield desired outcomes.
Prof Rapapa met the teachers’ unions on 6 April this year to discuss the teachers’ grievances and avert industrial action.
The talks came two weeks after the teachers staged a demonstration in Maseru during which they handed a petition to the minister, calling on the government to address their grievances which include payment of outstanding salaries and allowances.
The teachers want 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.
They even want Minister Rapapa to sack the Chief Executive Officer of the Teaching Service Department, ’Maselloane Sehlabi, who they accuse of maladministration and being a stumbling block to negotiations between them and the government.
A tough-talking Letsatsi Ntsibolane who is chairperson of the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), said they had given the government enough time to act on their grievances and their “patience had now worn out”.
The teachers also threatened to lobby other workers’ unions to strike in solidarity with them.
Such a development would paralyse the country which has already seen work stoppages and threats of it in the one year that the coalition government has been in power.
Only a fortnight ago, the magistrates embarked on an unprecedented strike to press the government to award them salary increments and improve their working conditions. The magistrates’ strike brought the country’s lower courts to a virtual standstill.
Last month thousands of workers from different sectors converged at the Moshoeshoe 1 monument in Maseru where they delivered a petition to Dr Thabane demanding salary increments for all workers.
The protestors, who comprised of factory employees, security guards and general workers from the retail and catering sector, want a 15 percent increment for all workers. They are also demanding a general minimum wage of M2000 for factory workers.
The workers also demanded that Dr Thabane sack Labour Minister, Keketso Rantšo, who they accuse of neglecting their neglecting their welfare concerns.