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Court blow for govt in its quest to contain workers

…as court okays teachers’ strike 

’Marafaele Mohloboli

THE government has been dealt a massive blow in its quest to rein in on increasingly restive civil servants after the Labour Court recently ruled that teachers should be allowed to go on strike.

The Labour Court ruling on Thursday follows an earlier ruling by the Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) that the one of the teachers’ unions, the Lesotho Teachers’ Association (LAT) could not go on strike as they represented a minority group of teachers.

An alliance of teachers’ unions comprising of LAT, the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho Schools Principals Association (LeSPA) subsequently approached the Labour Court to review the DDPR’s ruling against the teachers’ strike.

Delivering the ruling on Thursday, the Deputy President of the Labour Court, Makoanyane Keta, said that although section 225 of the Labour Code clearly stipulates that any party that has a threshold of 50 percent of the majority of workers can embark on an industrial action, the same section does not prohibit a minority party from going on strike.

The Labour Court then ruled in favour of the teachers’ unions and ordered the DDPR to award the teachers’ unions an industrial action protection certificate to enable their members to go on strike.

In the aftermath of the Labour Court ruling, LAT’s Maseru Branch chairperson Letsatsi Ntsibolane told the Sunday Express that the path was now clear for their job action to proceed and after collecting the certificate from the DDPR, they would meet to strategise on the form that their industrial action should take.

“Now that the court has ruled in our favour we have to go back to the DDPR to get our certificate,” Mr Ntsibolane said.

“Thereafter, we shall have to meet and strategize on the form of job action that we shall embark on.

“We shall have to agree on whether we shall picket, stay away or go-slow.”

The Labour Court ruling comes as a massive blow to the government which has been battling to contain the teachers.

On Wednesday, the Minister of Education and Training, Professor Ntoi Rapapa, announced that teachers who have continued with their strike despite a government directive that they return to work will not receive their salaries.

Prof Rapapa said the government will soon conduct inspections in all schools and teachers will not be paid for the days they were absent from work.

The government move follows last month’s decision by teachers to go on a month-long nationwide strike with effect from 2 August to 2 September to force the government to address their demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.

The teachers, who have coalesced under the LAT, Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and Lesotho Schools Principals Association (LeSPA), said they would not hesitate to indefinitely extend the strike if government would not have addressed their grievances by 2 September.

When schools opened last month, some teachers heeded the strike call while others especially those who are not members of the LAT, LTTU and LeSPA went to work as normal.

Speaking at the Wednesday press conference at his Maseru offices, Prof Rapapa said the government will invoke the ‘no work, no pay’ principle to deal with teachers who went ahead with the job action despite government’s appeal to them to go to work while their grievances were being addressed.

“Three teachers unions vowed not to teach students unless their grievances were addressed and even when the government began to address their issues, they still did not go to work.

“The government will soon start the full-scale inspection of schools and teachers found to have been absent from work will not be paid for the days they missed. The ‘no work no pay’ principle is a legal instrument which has been in existence for a long time and it has been used in various instances and this case is not an exception.

“The government, as the teachers’ employer, will further take legal action against teachers who have interfered with students’ learning and/or examinations. Those found guilty of instigating violence or had a stake in the destruction of property will also face legal action,” Prof Rapapa said on Wednesday.

Prof Rapapa also said that the government will tomorrow launch the dialogue which should culminate in the amendment of the teachers’ salaries and career structures framework to address the grievances of the teachers.

Among the teachers’ grievances were that the principals who hired on ‘performance contract’ basis in 2013 should be paid their gratuities for the three years they served on a contractual basis.

Prof Rapapa said the principals could not be paid the gratuities while they remained in government service and the gratuities would only be paid once they were no longer employed by the government.

He however, said that the government would allow the principals to apply for advances on their gratuities which would be deducted when they eventually start receiving the gratuities upon leaving government service.

“M23 million has been set aside to offer those 135 principals advances on the gratuities they qualify for. The amount which they would have borrowed will be deducted from their gratuities when they part ways with the government. There will not be any interest charged on the borrowed amount,” Prof Rapapa said.

Mr Ntsibolane however, accused Prof Rapapa of “playing politics” by threatening teachers who disregarded the ministry’s directive that they call of their strike and return to work.

“The minister was just playing his politics of threats as an employer. He was just threatening us when he said that we wouldn’t be paid.”

Mr Ntsibolane said instead of issuing threats the government should be engaging them to address their grievances, some of which he said, did not require any money to be addressed.

We also appeal to parents (of learners) to influence the government to come to the table with us and engage in talks to address our grievances.

“Some of the issues that we have raised don’t need money to be implemented. All we need is an amendment of the Education Act so that acting principals will be hired on a permanent and pensionable basis,” Mr Ntsibolane said.

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