Education International
Education International

South Africa: unions bring Department of Basic Education to court

published 22 August 2013 updated 23 August 2013

EI’s national affiliates, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU), the South Africa National Professional Teachers’ Organisation (NAPTOSA), and the Suid-Afrikaanse Onderwysersunie(SAOU), joined by the Professional Educators Union and the National Teachers’ Union, have taken the fight to reinstate a collective agreement to court. The agreement, signed between teacher unions and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in 2011 and unilaterally withdrawn by the DBE, plans for a salary increase for teachers who marked exams in 2012.

DBE: Agreement unaffordable and unenforceable

On 26 March, led by the SADTU, all five teacher unions represented in the Education Labour Relations Council took the DBE to the Labour Court in Johannesburg to implement the agreement. They said that the withdrawal of the agreement by the DBE showed disregard for the collective bargaining process and workers’ rights. The Labour Court reinstated the agreement, gave a 14-day notice, and set the matter for a full trial from 12-15 August.

On 12 August, DBE Senior Counsel Gerrit Pretorius argued that Bobby Soobrayan, Director-General of the Department of Basic Education, made a serious mistake when agreeing to a 100 per cent wage increment, causing him to face an internal disciplinary hearing over signing the agreement. Therefore, the agreement should not be enforced, Pretorius said.

What makes the agreement unaffordable and unenforceable, he insisted, is that it would increase salaries by an “astounding” 700 per cent for officials. Financing this agreement would require an additional ZAR750 million (South African rand) annually from the state budget, Pretorius told the court.

He also claimed that teacher unions had no mandate during the year-long negotiations.

Unions: Close the pay gap between exam personnel

Teacher unions, however, explained that Soobrayan knew what he was getting the Department into.

Unions negotiated for salary increments for exam markers - usually teachers and union members -and not examiners, moderators and translators. The latter are mostly university academics and some DPE officials, who received a 100 per cent salary increase in 2008.

It is this gap that unions wanted to close down by attaining a 100 per cent salary increase for markers, SADTU Secretary General Mugwena Maluleke highlighted. “We are talking about a [salary] gap between those setting the paper, moderating, and marking the paper. That gap had been growing and we want to narrow it,” Maluleke said.

He went on to reiterate that SADTU is demanding that the Department keeps to its agreement to give a salary increase to teachers who marked the Grade 12 pupils’ exam papers at the end of 2012.

NAPTOSA General Secretary Henry Hendricks also indicated that “our contention is that it shouldn’t have been signed if the person who signed it knew there was no money.”

EI: Respect trade unions’ collective bargaining right

EI supports its South African colleagues’ efforts in this collective bargaining dispute. “South Africa’s public authorities must respect collective bargaining and keep promises made,” EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen said. “We urge them to ensure quality education in the country by guaranteeing that teachers receive decent wages and working conditions.”