Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Cash strapped Ministry in race against time to block teachers’ boycott

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development will on Thursday hold an emergency meeting as part of its effort to avert planned consultative meetings by teachers’ union representatives.

At the centre of the financial wrangle is the Ministry’s decision to refuse to pay teachers overtime allowances citing depletion of funds from its overtime vote. The Ministry of Education says not enough funds were approved by Parliament during the supplementary budget review.

The country-wide consultation process was expected to kick off from the 21st to 27th January, a day before the Ministry invited the concerned Teachers’ Unions for a meeting scheduled for 22nd January at the Ministry of Education Headquarters to try and resolve the impasse.

The two teachers unions, Botswana Teachers Union (BTU) and Botswana Sector of Trade Unions (BOSETU) had instructed teachers to suspend their participation in overtime activities pending the outcome of the consultation process.

On Monday, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary Richard Matlhare told The Telegraph that “following recent developments on the issue of Overtime Payment for teachers, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development has invited the concerned Teachers’ Unions for a meeting scheduled for Thursday 22 January, 2015 at the Ministry of Education Headquarters to deliberate on this matter.”

He said his Ministry has a mechanism through which it engages with Teacher Unions on various issues of interest that affect teachers’ welfare and conditions of service.

Matlhare said they normally engage through meetings that involve Teachers Unions as representatives of the Employees on one hand and the Ministry Senior Officials representing the Employer on the other.

“As has been the case in the past, it is only prudent that we shall then issue a statement after engaging first with our partners (the Unions) before issuing statements through the media. While we appreciate your interest in the matter, making a (pre) statement prior to our Thursday meeting will be prejudicial to our envisaged discussion,” said Matlhare.

In a joint statement the two unions are accusing the Ministry of reneging on the agreement that was arrived at back in 2012 by altering the overtime conditions as provided for in the Public Service Act & the Employment Act.

They state that the employer (DPSM) and the Ministry of Education have subsequent to the agreement authored various savingrams not only offensive to the provisions of the labour statutes regulating overtime, but also meant to deliberately exploit teachers.

The unions say DPSM specifically authored a circular savingram recently which was followed by a subsequent one from Ministry of Education Permanent Secretary, which all purported that employees are required by law (could be forced) to work overtime and should be paid by days off, which in our view was a deliberate distortion of the statutes regulating overtime.

According to the Savingram in question, Directorate of Public Service Management (DPSM) had instructed various ministries that public servants should not work for overtime exceeding 14 hours.
It was followed by the Ministry which stated that, “In order to avoid further over time expenditure in the vote, we request for withholding of payment of overtime for employees in the Ministry for the month of December 2014, so that we can establish if all the submissions are in compliance with DPSM circular savingram on management of overtime ref DP 19/27vI (68) dated 7 August 2014.”

The unions say that Ministry of Education through Regional Directors has also on several occasions issued various instructions both verbal and written varying and altering the overtime conditions as provided for in the labour statutes, and during the process subjecting teachers to debilitating working conditions.

“Of particular reference is the instruction issued at various Regional Offices requiring teachers to work overtime and be compensated by taking 50% of the days worked as day offs, and another 50% to be compensated in monetary form. According to the Ministry, days off can only be taken during school holidays. This took away the right of employees as provided for in the statutes to decide on how they should be compensated in case they have to work overtime,” reads the statement from the two unions.

They added that “We have many incidences where the Ministry of Education has flatly refused to pay teachers after having been lawfully authorised and procedurally rendered service after normal hours and on rest days. We are alive to the fact that some authorised overtime has been returned to schools unpaid across regions.”

Some of the activities that are likely to be affected by the impasses between teachers and the Ministry include among other academic activities done after hours and during weekends; subject fairs, remedial teachings and sports activities.

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