SADTU rejects DA`s attack on labour rights

10 February 2010

SADTU is disgusted - but not surprised - by the DA`s call for the removal of the educators` right to strike. As champions of racial and class privilege, the DA`s opposition to labour rights and strong trade unionism comes as no surprise. The DA is playing a disingenuous political game and SADTU will vigorously oppose any attempt to curtail labour rights granted since the fall of apartheid.

The DA`s call was based largely on a superficial reading of the Tokiso Review which states that 42% of workdays lost due to strike action in the period 1995-2009 were attributable to SADTU. The impression is created that teachers are prone to strike at the drop of a hat. The truth is very different. We offer the following clarifications:

  • Sections of the media have crassly interpreted Tokiso`s findings to mean that teachers spend 42% of their time on strike. This is clearly false and would mean that teachers were on strike for 1,298 days over the last 15 years. In fact national teacher strikes account for 47 days lost over the period - an average of 3 per year. [Half of these are concentrated in the 2007 public service strike - the largest strike in South African history.]
  • You have to look at the specifics of the bargaining regime in the education sector. There is one employer. When there is a dispute the entire workforce goes on strike - nearly 400,000 public school educators, who are overwhelmingly unionized. Hence the large impact on the statistics for workdays lost.
  • If you look at the number of actual strikes called - which is reported in the Tokiso Review - the picture is completely different. The Review lists the ten most strike-prone unions: SADTU is not even on the list. The Review also analyses strike frequency by sector. Taken together education and health account for only 2% of all strikes.

So actually, strikes are rare in SADTU. But when a strike takes place in the sector it will be large in terms of workdays lost because of the size of the sector, the fact that there is only one employer and the high rate of unionization. [We acknowledge the highly publicised, but small and localized illegal strikes of teachers in parts of Soweto - which were condemned by SADTU.]

The DA`s tactics are in the end self defeating. The crisis in education is systemic and deep-rooted. It will not be solved by setting up straw-men or looking for scapegoats. As SADTU we applaud the positive initiatives taken by government working with the education unions through the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign to improve the quality of education in the classroom. The Campaign starts from a premise that as stakeholders we must each identify our responsibilities and hold each other accountable. So as educators we have committed “to be on time, teaching, well-prepared and professionally behaved at all times”. Similarly we expect the Department of Education to provide basic infrastructure, learning materials and development and support for teachers. The education system in this country will be salvaged when all of us - teachers, learners, parents and society - come together to take ownership of the system and hold each other accountable for our actions.

We also call upon the authors of the Tokiso Review to come forward and set the record straight.

Issued by: SADTU Secretariat