THOUSANDS of disgruntled teachers will on Wednesday petition Prime Minister Thomas Thabane over payment issues amid indications that their talks with Education and Training Minister Ntoi Rapapa failed to yield desired outcomes.
Prof Rapapa met the teachers’ unions on 6 April this year to discuss the teachers’ grievances and avert industrial action.
The talks came two weeks after the teachers staged a demonstration in Maseru during which they handed a petition to the minister, calling on the government to address their grievances which include payment of outstanding salaries and allowances.
Thousands of teachers from all over the country have coalesced under the Lesotho Teacher’s Association (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and Lesotho Schools Principals Association (LeSPA).
They want the government to pay them arrears on their performance-based contracts dating back to 2009. They also want the government to pay salaries that are commensurate with their academic and professional qualifications as well as weed out ghost workers from the payroll.
They even want Minister Rapapa to sack the Chief Executive Officer of the Teaching Service Department, ’Maselloane Sehlabi, who they accuse of maladministration and being a stumbling block to negotiations.
LAT Chairperson, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, recently told the Sunday Express that they were left with no choice but to petition the premier after their talks with Prof Rapapa ended in a stalemate.
“We decided that it would be best to petition the Prime Minister as the leader of the government because the minister said that most issues raised by the teachers were way beyond his control,” Mr Ntsibolane said, adding he did not understand the minister’s response as it was ministry which owed principals approximately M53 million for gratuities.
Mr Ntsibolane alleged that Prof Rapapa had informed them that the teachers’ demands involved huge sums of money involved and he felt that the leadership of the four-party coalition government was best placed to handle the matter.
“The ministry has paid some of the teachers and refused to pay others because they are already in service. The argument is that individuals cannot be paid pensions twice but our standpoint is that these are gratuities and not pensions.
“We failed to find a solution to our problems but we need to give the government an opportunity to deal with this matter before we down tools because we will certainly down tools if the government fails us,” Mr Ntsibolane said.
Prof Rapapa could not be reached for comment as his as his mobile phone went unanswered.
However, in a letter dated 6 April, Education and Training Principal Secretary Thabiso Lebese said the minister had mandated him to respond to the teachers’ grievances.
“I should, however, emphasis that even though teachers demand the ministry to have addressed some of the grievances within fourteen days, our humble submission is that this request is not practical because some issues can only be fully resolved subject to legislation and police changes, and/or budget availability,” Dr Lebese said.
He added: “Of about 70 principals who were on contract and not pensionable, 20 of them have been paid their gratuities. The Ministry is working around the clock to pay the remaining 50 principals before long. Terminal benefits of the other 150 principals who were permanent and pensionable are governed under Proclamation no 4 of 1964 or Public Officers’ Defined Contribution Pension Fund Act no 8 of 2008.”
Dr Lebese said the ministry committed to reviewing the teachers’ salaries in the 2018/19 financial year.
“In addition, the legal case between the ministry and the Progressive Association of Lesotho Teachers (PALT) on the revision of the 2009 Teacher Salary and Career Structure was settled by agreement between the two parties that they should engage each other and ensure that the review is undertaken.”
The 2009 Teacher Salary and Career Structure dictates that the ministry will not pay qualifications of teachers who improve their qualifications after they have already been absorbed into the Teaching Service Department.