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Govt plays hardball with striking teachers

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

GOVERNMENT has descended heavily on striking teachers, saying they will not be paid and they will also be locked out of schools if they do not return to work immediately.

The restive teachers went on the rampage in Maseru on Monday blocking the flow of traffic at the main traffic circle and placed rocks and stones on the road. This was despite the government’s call for them to refrain from striking and continue working while negotiations continued between the two sides over the teachers’ long-standing demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.

Last Thursday, Communications, Science and Technology minister, Thesele ‘Maseribane announced that teachers’ unions agreed to postpone the job action to allow the inter-ministerial committee to continue negotiations with them.

However, on Monday hundreds of teachers picketed in the streets before they were dispersed by the police.

Most schools across the country were closed from Monday until Friday. Some government-run schools in Maseru sent learners back home in response to the crippling job action.

Speaking at a recent press conference, Chief ‘Maseribane, who chairs the inter-ministerial committee tasked with the negotiating with the teachers, said the latest strike was unlawful because teachers’ representatives had agreed that teachers would continue working while their representations continued to engage the government.

Chief ‘Maseribane said government would not tolerate lawlessness and appealed to teachers to go back to work failing which, a no work, no pay policy. He said striking teachers would also be locked out of schools.

“We advise teachers to report back to work,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

“We have heard rumours that there were plans to burn some schools. We will not tolerate acts of lawlessness such as those that happened on Monday (in Maseru). This government is ready to respond to acts of lawlessness.”

Chief ‘Maseribane said although the teachers’ grievances were reasonable and government was determined to address them, that did not give the teachers the right to go on strike whenever they wanted to.

“Government acknowledges the validity of the teachers’ complaints but that does not give them the right to engage in unlawful strikes. We have also conceded that government has been slow (in addressing the teachers’ grievances) but we have made plans to increase our manpower to fast-track the implementation some of the agreements which have been reached in the negotiations. Teachers were not contracted to block traffic in town.  They were hired to teach children,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

He denied allegations in some quarters that teachers’ unions had been coerced into cancelling the strike saying that they had agreed to do so after amicable discussions with the government.

He added that the teachers’ representatives reiterated their intention to cancel their strike at a meeting that was called by the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) last Saturday.

“It is not true that teachers were under duress (to cancel the strike). They (teachers’ representatives) were asked if there would be a strike and they volunteered to withdraw the strike. They even wrote a letter to the say that they had resolved to withdraw the strike,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

Attempts to find comments from the teachers’ representative failed as their mobile phones rang unanswered.

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