Wednesday, June 7, 2023

‘Dumb’ teachers should know better

Owing to ignorance of the law, some teachers who are assaulted at work “sit on their rights” and do not claim compensation as provided for by legislation.

According to the Workman’s Compensation Act, an employee who is injured in the workplace is entitled to compensation. In the particular case of teachers, this issue has taken on new urgency because of what some schools have become.

Last month, a Kgari Sechele Secondary School teacher was brutalised by a male student while in Gaborone some students are said to have formed weapon-carrying terror gangs that put the fear of the Lord in teachers and fellow students alike.

Monica Legwale, the Secretary for Health and Safety in the Botswana Sectors of Educators Trade Union (BOSETU) recalls an assault case against a teacher in which the union assisted the victim to get compensation.

“But that does not happen with all the time. Some teachers who are assaulted by students do not report to the relevant authorities and therefore do not claim compensation because of ignorance of the law,” she says.

How fast a victim acts is important because the compensation process is time-bound – outside the timelines stipulated in the Act, an employee who got injured in the workplace cannot claim the compensation.

With her office having been established not too long ago, one of the main tasks that Legwale is currently doing is sensitising both the Ministry of Education and Skills Development and teachers about health and safety issues within the school environment.

The intervention that the union has made goes beyond helping victims get money. In two separate cases, it interceded on behalf of rape and assault victims to secure transfers to other, hopefully safer schools.

The bigger issue, as Legwale articulates it, is that Botswana does not have a national occupational health and safety (OHS) legislation that would protect not just teachers but every other worker. Her assessment of the Workman’s Compensation Act is that it is “shallow” because it does not protect adequate protection to workers. In the particular case of the school situation, Legwale says that learning institution have to meet the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definitional standard of “classroom”. Her elaboration is that a physically safe classroom should be structurally sound with no ceiling falling in, no missing doors or windows, an even floor as well as proper air-conditioning to mitigate weather extremities.

“Even before we get to the issue of a student beating up a teacher, one has to consider whether the teacher’s working environment is conducive enough to work in,” she says.

A safe school environment is also one free of habit-forming drugs and the task of ensuring that condition does not fall on the teacher because he/she does not have the requisite law enforcement expertise.

Legwale asserts that in a situation where teachers have to police schools for drug use, the possibility of being assaulted by student addicts can only be one of adverse outcomes. She says that it would be desirable for intelligence services to deal with the drug problem in schools.

Legwale’s workload extends to dealing with ergonomical issues (she mentions “proper and adequate furniture” as an example) within the work environment, the psycho-social well-being of teachers and mechanical hazards. An example that she cites with regard to the latter is of machines in Design and Technology workshops that are not properly maintained for long periods of time because of shortage of money.

The worst-case scenario that can result from such situations is an accident in which a student gets injured and the teacher is held accountable for not having ensured that the machine is properly maintained.

Legwale says an OHS policy proposal that should long have been tabled in Parliament is lying somewhere in an office at the Ministry of Labour and Home Affairs. Her preference is for the promulgation of an Act of Parliament but in its absence, a slow-moving policy would provide stop-gap relief.


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