24 May 2020
SADTU in KwaZulu-Natal noted the call of the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, to re-open schools across the country on 1 June 2020 amid persistent Covid-19 cases growth. This announcement was followed by KZN Circular 30 issued by the HOD indicating that upon the assessment done by the department they were confident that schools were ready to receive school Principals the 21 May 2020.
While we observe fear and anxiety from our members as they are called to report for duty on 25 May 2020, it is important for us as SADTU in the province to add our voice in the current discussion and debate concerning the readiness of our schools.
Firstly, the Minister informed the nation that for any school to re-open specific measures termed non-negotiables must have been addressed. This, we believe, was based on the need to prioritise lives then the academic year. KZN Department of education established three committees which we had hoped they were to function with honesty and consider all discussions meant to pave a safe journey for schools to open. SADTU participated in the committees but it became clear from the first meetings that these committees were not valued by some officials in the department. For example, we have seen through non-attendance of an important layer of the department - the districts. Circular 27 issued by the HOD provided, as a must, that district steering committee was to be directly represented in the provincial steering committee; a decision that made sense to us as it was to allow districts to be part of deliberations and share their own programmes and progress. In our view, committees have not been effective in providing leadership and direction to all stake holders and to the department. Lack of clarity of roles and undermining of decisions of the same committees by the same department has been the order of the day.
We take exception on the continued abuse of employees who are threatened with disciplinary processes if they resist using their cars to deliver the stuff. We take exception to threats directed to union leaders that they will be charged if they stop the department from flouting the agreed measures as it happened in Umlazi and Umgungundlovu districts. The Union is ready, as always, to defend its members and to expose any wrong doing by the employer.
In the first meeting of the steering committee, it was declared by the HOD, that it is the steering committee, informed by the Risk, Monitoring and Evaluation committee that will declare readiness of schools. There is nothing that has been discussed in the steering committee except developing and adopting terms of reference and also receiving a report from the Risk, Monitoring and Evaluation committee which made it clear through the report tabled that schools were not ready on 19 May 2020. However, a day later, Circular 30 was issued wherein the department indicated readiness. The department relied, correctly so, on other departments for example, the department of health for providing assistance with people to check temperature. We were disappointed in the steering committee as it became clear through the presentation from the HOD of the department of health who indicated that even themselves they were utilising security guards to do the task which clearly indicated that chances of assisting the department of education were slim.
On the 22-23 May SADTU deployed leaders to check progress made by the department in delivering the needed essentials in the form of PPEs and cleaning of schools. The findings of this exercise revealed that most deliveries have been made to districts. However, very few things found their way to schools. To be precise, some schools received between 4 and 8 five litres of sanitisers and 1-2 plastic re-filler pumps for sanitisers. Some districts were fortunate to get 8-12 disinfecting tins. In other districts, schools were told that 3 schools would share a pump.
ON THE COMMITMENT TO COMPLY WITH THE SET MEASURES
SADTU has observed the flouting of COVID measures by the department. This is a serious matter which must be looked at by authorities as it has a potential of spreading the virus and deliberately putting the lives of people to danger of getting infected. In many district offices and Circuit offices there is no one who is checking temperatures of people visiting these offices including employees. There are no registers and sanitisers. We read in the news that our department committed to deal with people who flout Covid measures. SADTU is now submitting cases and expect to be called for specifics and detail.
Secondly, SADTU together with all other unions indicated that collecting PPEs cannot be made a responsibility of school principals neither of circuit managers. We have observed that in many districts principals and officials were intimidated through messages from their superiors to collect and deliver PPEs to schools. Unfortunately, workers are being forced to do work that is not theirs in terms of the job description. We warned that the department must not use Covid to undermine workers and erode all the labour rights that were fought for. SADTU wishes to remind the department the following:
It is not the responsibility of school principals to collect
It is not the responsibility of the circuit managers to deliver
Some of these things that are delivered are chemicals and no one has educated circuit managers and principals on how to handle this dangerous stuff
That the department must commit to be liable to any damage to property or life which may be endangered as a result of the instructions they give to employees
No education provided on how to use chemicals said to be disinfectants
No one can force an employee to use personal cars to deliver as they are not delivery man and women
SADTU is aware that workers are made to work for long hours as they offload deliveries from trucks and loading in their own personal cars to deliver to schools. We want to repeat that these employees, besides mixing with many community members like all of us, they mix with people who deliver to districts and no one is checking their temperatures, from there they are expected to go to schools where they are not checked, in fact they move from school to school. SADTU views the current chaotic state of affairs as leading to a fertile ground for the spread of the virus.
Lastly our monitoring over the past two days have found that no District Director or Circuit Manager can boldly confirm readiness for any school to re-open particularly. Only Former Model C schools can potentially be ready as they do not rely on the department, but use their own facilities and financial muscle to buy all PPEs and disinfect their schools. This is an indication that inequalities in the schooling system are still rife and we call for the department to think carefully about the state of our schools which is something we have been reporting for many years. There is no clear plan about how the department is assisting special schools and as we know they are at limbo as many guidelines put by the department are irrelevant to their situation.
Lastly, SADTU knows that deliveries were done to district offices and the department needs at least 2-3 weeks to audit, verify stock and make deliveries to schools. Contrary to pronouncements that PPEs have been delivered, many schools have received inadequate materials with no installed water tanks, no replacement of vandalised classrooms with mobile classes. Employees with comorbidities are at limbo as there is no guidance from the provincial department on how their matter must be dealt with.
DECISION of SADTU KZN
Schools in KwaZulu Natal are not ready in complying with COVID19 regulations and we therefore advise workers in education not to report for duty on 25th May 2020 until the employer has ensured compliance and until the union is confident about the state of readiness.
In the meantime the department must do the right thing as one way of prioritising lives of its employees and learners – cleaning and disinfecting the schools.
ISSUED BY: SADTU KZN SECRETARIAT
Nomarashiya Caluza, Provincial Secretary: 082 6117027
Bheki Shadu, Deputy Provincial Secretary: 082 611 7028
Aubrey Zungu, Media Officer: 076 059 3764