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Teachers’ strike called off: ‘Maseribane

Ntsebeng Motsoeli

RESTIVE teachers may not proceed with their planned strike tomorrow to allow for the resumption of negotiations with the government to resolve their long-standing demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.

The teachers had set tomorrow as the date for the resumption of their countrywide strike but Communications, Science and Technology minister, Thesele ‘Maseribane recently told the Sunday Express that the teachers’ unions agreed to postpone the job action to allow the inter-ministerial committee to continue negotiations with them.

However, one of the leaders of the teachers’ unions, Letsatsi Ntsibolane said they were yesterday locked in meetings to decide whether or not the strike continues.

The teachers went on strike as recently as February this year and only called off the job action after the government promised to address their grievances. However, they lost patience with the government’s slow pace of dealing with their issues and they will go on strike on 12 August 2019.

The teachers, who have coalesced under the banner of three teachers’ unions- the Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and the Lesotho School Principals Association (LeSPA), wrote to the government a fortnight ago to inform it of their intention to strike.

They addressed their letter to Communications, Science and Technology, minister, Thesele ‘Maseribane, in his capacity as the chairperson of the inter-ministerial committee dealing with the teachers’ grievances. The letter was copied to the Minister of Education and Training, Professor Ntoi Rapapa, the Teaching Service Commission and Department and the Directorate of Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR).

“Kindly note that the teachers’ formations shall resume the strike on the 12th of August 2019. Teachers shall be away from work for three weeks each month and work only one week if the sub-committee fails to intervene within a period of five days from the date of receipt of this letter,” the teachers’ unions state in their letter to Chief.

But yesterday, Chief ‘Maseribane told this publication that the teachers’ associations had agreed to postpone the strike to allow the inter-ministerial committee to continue negotiations with them.

“I received a letter from the teachers’ unions requesting my intervention in my capacity as the chairperson (of the inter-ministerial committee set up to look into the teacher’s grievances,” Chief ‘Maseribane said.

“The teachers’ unions want to intervene in their matter with the ministry of education. We subsequently met teachers’ representatives from the Lesotho Association of Teachers, Lesotho Teachers Trade Unions and the Lesotho Schools Principals Association.  And after a long meeting, it was agreed that the teachers’ task team should meet and outline all the issues that they wish me to intervene on.

“We will meet again on Tuesday to iron out key issues that they want addressed. I can therefore allay fears that there will be a strike as the teachers had communicated before.”

Chief ‘Maseribane said in any event the strike would have been premature because the teachers and the government had previously agreed that the strike could only be called from October onwards if they still felt their grievances were not addressed.

Yesterday, LAT chairperson, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, said they it would be premature to say whether or not the strike had been called off. He said they were due to meet late yesterday to decide on the issue.

“It would be premature to comment now on whether to carry on or postpone the strike. We will meet late today (Saturday) to discuss that issue,” Mr Ntsibolane told the Sunday Express yesterday.

Should it proceed, the teachers’ strike will be third in less than a year. It comes at a time when the governing coalition is battling growing unrest from various sections of society. The latest strike was the unprecedented job action by police officers who last month took to the streets to protest the government’s failure to award them six percent salary increments as well as improve their working conditions.

The teachers, who brought the education sector to a standstill with their month-long strike in February this year, are livid with the government over its failure to timeously address their grievances. The February strike was supposed to last a year, but it was called off after a month after the two parties agreed to negotiate.

Last month, the teachers threatened to resume the strike accusing the government of taking them for granted.

The teachers want the government to pay them salary 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 to weed out ghost workers from the payroll.

The teachers also demanded an eight per cent increment for the 2019/20 financial year.

Alternatively, the teachers also demanded a tax credit of M1200 to enable them to take home more money as disposable real income.

However, the government said it could not afford the eight percent increment and the two parties subsequently agreed that this would be implemented in the next financial year. The government also said that it could not afford the teachers’ M1200 tax credit demands.

The government agreed to promote 440 teachers who have been employed since 2016. The promotions will be effective upon the amendment of the Teaching Service Regulations of 2002.

Mr Ntsibolane last month said the teachers’ representatives have been meeting the inter-ministerial committee once a month since February this year and they are not satisfied with the government’s snail pace in addressing their issues.

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