08 February 2010

Business Report picks on SADTU

A disgrace: New figures show how teachers failed

Strikes hit school children hard

Lucky Biyase, Business Report, Johannesburg, 8 February 2010

School children have been the major casualties of industrial action over the past five years, according to data in the Tokiso Review, released on Friday. The review is a study of the state of labour dispute resolution in South Africa.
At a time when skills shortages are cited by economists as the biggest hurdle to economic growth in the country, the SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) was responsible for 42 percent of all working days lost in the period.

The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was a distant second, contributing 12 percent to the total. The SA Municipal Workers Union made up 10 percent, according to the Tokiso Review.

The review says a further two unions with "significant" membership in the public sector contributed to days lost - the National Education Health and Allied Workers Union 5 percent and the SA Transport and Allied Workers Union 6 percent.

The public sector was responsible for about 64 percent of workdays lost out of the top 10 unions, says the report.

While Sadtu accounted for the most days lost, the NUM had the highest incidence of industrial action at 26 percent.

Servaas van der Berg, a professor of economics at the University of Stellenbosch, said strikes were particularly disruptive at schools.

He said strike action puts at risk the chances of children getting a good education.

SA Chamber of Commerce and Industry spokesperson Peggy Drodskie said that the figures revealed a worrying trend as the country was struggling to produce quality learners with the right qualifications for industry.

The matric pass rate last year declined from 62.6 percent in 2008 to 60.6 percent.

Economist Mike Schussler of Economists.co.za accused Sadtu of damaging the prospects of black children.

"They are keeping apartheid alive," he said.

Labour specialist Andrew Levy said: "We hope one day teachers will realise their moral obligation and use strikes responsibly."

Sadtu general secretary Mugwena Maluleke dismissed the findings as inaccurate and added that teachers had ways of recovering lost time, including teaching during holidays.

But Van der Berg said in practice it was often impossible to make up for lost time.

Maluleke conceded that strikes were disruptive, but argued that it was "the only tool" unions had to break a deadlock between members and the employer.

Cosatu's general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said, if true, the Tokiso Review figures were shocking. Asked for comment, Vusi Mona, the head of communications in the Presidency, referred to a joint statement last month by Sadtu and other teacher unions, which committed member teachers to "dedicated professionalism and the development of a true culture of learning".

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Here, for example, is Domza’s response:

"The pie-chart given in the hard-copy edition is misleading. SADTU is one of the largest unions so it is not surprising that it has more days lost than SACTWU or FAWU, for example. Also, where is the figure for the other 11 unions in COSATU and for all the other unions not in COSATU? 42% of a selection is not a meaningful statistic. Comparing SADTU to NUM is skew because NUM was not involved in the one-month public sector strike in 2007. Also, not only in that case but generally, NUM's counterparts on the other side of the negotiating table are more awake, more urgently motivated, and more able to arrive at a bargain, than the single employer of the teachers."