The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union [NEHAWU] has finalised its preparations for a national strike in all the Technical and Vocational Education and Training [TVET] and Community Education and Training [CET] colleges in the country. The strike will commence at workplaces on the 14th February 2019 in the morning and run indefinitely until all our demands are met by the Department of Higher Education and Training [DHET].
On the 08th February 2019 the union convened a national bargaining forum meeting that was attended by Provincial Coordinators, Provincial Secretaries, Organisers and National Office Bearers to finalise the action plan for the strike. The meeting unanimously agreed that we are more than ready to embark on a strike after reports were tabled from both TVET and CET colleges on their state of readiness.
NEHAWU organises workers from 50 TVET colleges spread across 264 campuses and CET colleges spread across more than 3000 community learning centres. Our members are ready to make their voices heard and send a strong message to the department that they shall no longer tolerate being exploited and subjected to horrible working conditions. Our members have been patient since 2015 and now their patience has ran out hence they have decided to withdraw their labour power in a quest to twist the arm of the employer to accede to our genuine and reasonable demands.
The issues that has culminated into the strike have been before the council since April 2015 and the department under the stewardship of Mr Gwebinkundla Felix Qonde dismally failed to address our issues even after the march we had in November 2017. The union had numerous meetings with the department to try resolve our issues with no positive result and we ultimately had to follow the dispute resolution processes in the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council [GPSSBC].
As NEHAWU, we hold a strong view that at the centre of our problems is the leadership and presence of the current Director General. We believe that any qualitative change that the department shall undertake must begin with the departure of Mr Qonde as he has no best interest in his heart for the department and the students it seeks to serve. He has treated workers with sheer disdain and dismally failed to guide the department to implement sound human resource policies. Most of the challenges that are being faced by workers at public colleges are administrative by nature. This can be attributed to the failure by the Director General to appoint competent HR managers.
In August 2018 the Director General issued a circular to instruct college principals to facilitate appointment of council members in terms of section 10.4B of the CET Act. This is irregular because principals are accountable to the college council as the governance structure. It is ridiculous for the principals to appoint people they should account to. This opens up space for the process to be abused by the principals by appointing their cronies so they evade being accountable. In terms of the Act it, should be the Minister who facilitates the appointment of councils.
This further proves that the DG is not fit to be at the helm of the department as he has proven beyond reasonable doubt on numerous occasions that he does not care about the proper running of the department nor does he care about the future of young people who are yearning for education. As NEHAWU, we demand that he is relieved of his duties as soon as possible.
Our demands as NEHAWU are as follows:
• Since migration in 2015 our member’s salaries and other benefits have been stagnant and as such the college personnel is now less paid than their counterpart in the public service. It is our demand that this must be addressed through proper implementation of performance bonuses and grade progression. The department’s new payroll system “persal” system does not recognise service records acquired prior migration. This means staff members who were previously on college payroll for 15 or more years are currently not receiving grade progression benefit because the system only recognised the experience acquired from after migration in April 2015. The dispute emanated when the employer refused to correct the system saying that public service does not recognise college’s service record.
• The none application of section 198B of the Labour Relations Act for all qualifying contract workers in TVET and CET colleges and some colleges are terminating contracts of our members unilaterally. Our members have been appointed on a temporary basis for many years, which is against the new Labour Relations Amendments regulating temporary employment. The minister issued circular 17 of 2015 with regard to the implementation of section 198B in the sector and it was supposed to be finalized in December 2016. There is reluctance in applying this section of the law for qualifying contract workers in TVET and CET colleges.
• None deduction of pension benefit for CET College employees. This matter affects approximately 11000 lecturers that were inherited after the migration process in the different regions. Some of the staff members have been employed for more than 10 years and when they reach retirement age only their last pay cheque becomes their retirement benefit.
• Transferring of all college paid staff into Persal. Section 20 (1) (b) of the Community Education and Training (CET) Act 2006 allows individual colleges to employ staff to complement what has been provided by the state however the staff should be attached to special projects. Currently we are having 8000 lecturers and technical support staff in public TVET Colleges employed to support ministerial approved programmes paid through college pay roll which contravenes the law. The law says all staff in the TVET colleges employed to support ministerial approved programmes must be public servants which must be paid through state payroll Persal.
• Introduction of a new salary dispensation for TVET college staff. Currently staff in the TVET Colleges is the most underpaid in the public college system particularly lecturers. TVET Colleges play a very critical role in addressing skill shortage in the country. The stakeholders signed a declaration in 2017 TVET Imbizo that recognise the need to develop a new improved market related remuneration structure suitable for both support and TVET College lecturers as well as related benefits inclusive of a competitive remuneration structure for qualified artisans serving in the TVET Colleges.
• Non-payment of outstanding benefits caused by dual pay system (37% in lieu of benefits). College staff members who were appointed in 2008 and paid by college payroll did not receive benefits until 2013 whereas their colleagues who were on Persal pay system received all benefits. The employer is refusing to pay unpaid benefits despite acknowledging the liability.
• Victimization and purging of our Shop Stewards as well members in TVET Colleges. Every college where our members and shop stewards raised issues of mismanagement and maladministration are being purged and dismissed. One example is our Eastern Cape TVET Bargaining coordinator who works at East Cape Midlands College and the Regional Secretary who works at Ikhala TVET College who are facing dismissals for fighting corruption against college managers.
• Reorganization of the examination unit which includes printing off all outstanding certificates and diplomas for college graduates. The backlogs in issuing delays to TVET students causes negative lags in the training and development of previously disadvantaged students as they are unable to access internship opportunities resulting in the delay in accessing job opportunities. The situation is now very bad in such a way that those students who should be receiving diplomas after successful completion of in-service training are also affected. Every examination cycle comes with challenges that compromise the integrity in results of candidates. We have noted with disturbance the following challenges that we have communicated with DHET representatives and the Director General:
• Absent of exam policies
• Leaking of papers
• Late release of results
• Markers appointment process
• Poor quality of exam papers
Currently, ABET level 4 examinations and senior certificate offered in the CET Colleges are being administered by the Department of Basic Education which is not supposed to be the case in the first place.
The national union shall not settle for anything less and shall wage a relentless war on behalf of its members until all our demands are fully met by the department. We have raised our issues with two Ministers before the current one and it is about time that the department desist from treating TVET and Colleges workers with condescension. Like any other workers in any workplace, these workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. The department must begin to realise that these workers are their best assets and must play a critical role in the skills revolution including ensuring that TVET’s are at the centre of educating our future leaders and contributors to our economy.
We are happy with the level of mobilisation we have undertaken to ensure that the national strike is a success and we are more than confident that workers will come out in numbers to the picket lines to send an unequivocal message that the status quo cannot remain. NEHAWU has also met with the Progressive Youth Alliance [PYA] in particular SASCO and the YCLSA and the South African Further Education and Training Student Association [SAFETSA] who are leading students in these institutions. All these structures have pledged support to our national strike and have vowed to work hand in hand with NEHAWU as part of strengthening the student-worker alliance.