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Teachers union distances itself from strike

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE Lesotho Union of Teachers (LUT) has distanced itself from the proposed teachers’ strike and warned fellow teachers the industrial action was not only premature but illegal as well.

Teachers have resolved to go on a month-long nationwide strike with effect from 2 August this year to force the government to address their demands for salary increments and improved working conditions.

The teachers, who have coalesced under the Lesotho Teacher’s Association (LAT), Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU) and Lesotho Schools Principals Association (LeSPA), announced their decision to go on strike at a press conference in Maseru last week.

However, the LUT’s lawyer and executive secretary, Advocate Thokoane Matete, recently told the Sunday Express that planned strike was premature and illegal.

Adv Matete said LUT members had been advised against participating in the strike which was illegal as the fellow teachers unions had not followed the proper channels before deciding on the industrial action.

Adv Matete claimed that LUT has 1000 members.

“Issues between employees and their employer are often discussed, mostly in writing and if the two parties fail to reach a common ground a mediator has to be engaged,” Adv Matete recently told the Sunday Express.

“In Lesotho, the arbitrator of labour disputes is the Directorate on Dispute Prevention and Resolution (DDPR) and that is where the teachers’ grievances should have been referred.

“Thereafter the DDPR would have brought the two parties for discussions to find the common ground. Where the two parties failed to reach a consensus the DDPR would then declare a deadlock. The employees would then meet and vote on whether or not to go on strike.

“The employees would then write to the employer indicating that they wish to strike. The employees should also give a seven days’ notice of their intention to strike.

These processes were not followed and therefore, the LUT finds the strike call premature and illegal. So we resolved to abstain from the strike action. We also have grievances and we are willing to join our colleagues in fighting the employer if they decide to do the right thing by refraining from the strike,” Adv Matete said.

Last week most teachers’ unions said that they will engage in strike from 2 August when the schools reopen and they will not hesitate to indefinitely extend the planned strike if government will not have addressed their grievances by 2 September.

They first announced that they would down tools in a letter to Prime Minister Thomas Thabane a fortnight ago. They said they had resolved to strike after a government task force led by the Government Secretary, Moahloli Mphaka, failed to timeously attend to their grievances.

However, Adv Matete said that LAT, LTTU and LeSPA had not been sincere in that they did not warn their members of the consequences of the strike which included possible expulsion from the profession.

“The associations are using teachers as they have not explained to them the possible outcomes and consequences they are likely to face should they continue with the strike. This is a serious risk they are taking.

“The results of the strike may either be positive or negative so the question that the three associations should ask themselves is whether they are ready for the negative outcome. Supposing the employer decides to use the ‘no work no pay’ policy, do the associations have money to sustain the livelihoods of their members during the strike?

“The school boards may also decide to dismiss teachers on the basis that they were absent from work illegally so are the associations also ready to support their members financially and legally in fighting such dismissals?

Adv Matete said LUT which is a splinter union from the LAT was willing to engage the latter on how best to tackle the teachers’ grievances as the “government currently held an advantage over the teachers”.

“LAT membership is approximately 3800 teachers, LTTU about 2000 while LeSPA has only 200 members. There are approximately 18 teachers countrywide and this means these associations do not even constitute a quorum to constitute a strike.

“Unfortunately we have not approached any of these (teachers’) unions to warn them about the consequences of the planned strike because we believe LAT still perceives us in a bad way since we split from them in May 2017. But if they are ready to sit down with us we will come on board.

“The government has a vast financial resources and expert advice and therefore we need each other to strategise carefully before attacking. They warned the government of their illegal strike but they do not know what the government is planning right now. The government may attack when they least expect it and that might be in a way they may find difficult to tackle,” Adv Matete said.

However, the LAT’s Maseru Branch chairperson, Letsatsi Ntsibolane, dismissed Adv Matete’s assertions.

Mr Ntsibolane said the proposed strike was legal, adding that Adv Matete’s LUT was not part of the struggle to improve the teachers’ welfare and sought to ride on the proposed strike to gain popularity.

“The LUT have never raised the teachers’ grievances that we have raised. It is only recently that they came out saying our strike is illegal yet they never engaged us to find out how we have been preparing for this strike since February this year.

“I want to ensure teachers that we would never engage in anything illegal and the strike is for our grievances to be addressed and not to get anyone into trouble. By end of next week we will have the strike clearance certificate, so Adv Matete should not speak of things he does not know about.

“Advocate Matete was once an employee of LAT but he decided to form his own association and now he is using our grievances to promote LUT by saying we are putting teachers in the firing line. He is a lawyer not a teacher therefore a lawyer will never understand the grievances of teachers.

“He (Adv Matete) has never been a teacher so he does not understand what we are fighting for. LAT has about 3800 members but we are fighting for all the teachers regardless of whether or not they are our members,” Mr Ntsibolane said.




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