Teachers threaten another strike

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Mohalenyane Phakela

RESTIVE teachers have scheduled countrywide meetings to decide whether or not to resume crippling strikes amid growing anger over the government’s tardiness in addressing their long-standing grievances for better remuneration and improved working conditions. The meetings have been pencilled in for tomorrow in all the country’s 10 districts.

The Lesotho Times has established that the teachers, who have coalesced under the banner of three teachers’ unions- the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho School Principals Association (LeSPA) are pushing their leaders to declare a strike.

The looming strike, which will be third in less than 12 months, comes at a time when the governing coalition is battling growing unrest from various sections of society. The latest is the unprecedented job action by police officers who last week took to the streets around the country to protest the government’s failure to award them six percent salary increments as well as improve their working conditions.

The teachers, who brought the education sector to a standstill with their month-long strike in February this year, are livid with the government over its failure to timeously address their grievances. The February strike was supposed to last a year but it was called off after a month after the two parties agreed to negotiate.

“The government is taking us for granted and they have been taking us for a ride all this time. After Friday’s (tomorrow’s) meetings we are resuming the strike and this time there will be no going back until our grievances are fully met,” one teacher told the Lesotho Times on condition of anonymity. He was supported by many other fellow teachers who said they were tired of the government’s failure to address their grievances.

Letsatsi Ntsibolane, who is one of the teachers’ representatives in the negotiations with the government, was however more diplomatic, telling this publication that tomorrow’s countrywide meetings with their members would determine the teachers’ next course of action.

“I cannot say for now whether or not we will resume the strike but teachers will meet on 19 July (tomorrow) in all the country’s 10 districts where they will decide,” Mr Ntsibolane said this week.

“The teachers’ meetings will map the way forward on whether or not to continue the negotiations with the government. We met the government inter-ministerial sub-committee on Monday but we are not happy with the progress. In fact, there is nothing which came out which points towards the addressing of our issues.”

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 to weed out ghost workers from the payroll.

After the February strike this year, the cabinet appointed a special committee to help the Education and Training minister Professor Ntoi Rapapa address the teachers’ grievances.

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

The teachers demanded a minimum eight per cent increment for the 2019/20 financial year.

Alternatively, the teachers also demanded a tax credit of M1200 to enable them to take home more money as disposable real income.

However, the government said it could not afford the eight percent increment and the two parties subsequently agreed that this would be implemented in the next financial year. The government also said that it could not afford the teachers’ M1200 tax credit demands.

The government agreed to promote 440 teachers who have been employed since 2016. The promotions will be effective upon the amendment of the Teaching Service Regulations of 2002.

Mr Ntsibolane this week said the teachers’ representatives have been meeting the inter-ministerial committee once a month since February and they are not satisfied with the government’s snail pace in addressing their issues.

The June 2019 progress report on the two parties’ meetings, seen by the Lesotho Times, shows that the salary structure review will only be completed next month. The promotion of the 440 teachers has not been effected as the process is still in the vetting stage.

“The new teachers’ career structure is complete and ready to be presented to the ministerial sub-committee with minimal changes to cater for the unqualified teachers. The salary structure review is ongoing and projected to be completed in August 2019.

“For the promotion of the 440 teachers, the Examination Council of Lesotho (ECoL), the Lesotho College Education (LCE) and National University of Lesotho (NUL) were all invited to assist with the vetting, preparation of the budget and to make submissions to cabinet for approval.

“The vetting by the LCE is complete while NUL and ECoL have not started the process. The budget is done and a memo has already been drafted It awaits the finalisation of lists (of teachers to be promoted),” the report states.

All these developments only offer cold comfort to the teachers who want urgent action to cushion them against the ever-increasing cost of living.

 

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