Botswana might find herself faced with yet another examination crisis, if the Ministry of Education and teachers unions do not move fast to sort out their differences over hours of work and leave for teachers.
The Botswana Sectors of Education Teachers Union (BOSETU) has vowed not to mark students’ examination scripts if government continues with her demands that teachers who wish to partake in marking should first apply for leave.
The most recent spat was sparked by a communiqu├® from the MoE, warning that all teachers who wish to partake in the imminent marking exercise should first apply for leave. Irked by the memo, teachers unions shot salvos at government, saying the MoE, as an end user ministry, should not address issues that are still being negotiated with the employer, DPSM.
BOSETU Secretary General, Tobokani Rari, slammed government for her continued intransigence and affront to teachers, saying teachers should not be required to apply for leave to partake in an exercise that is in the national interest.
“Marking is a national exercise just like the population census and general elections. Government has a responsibility to deploy public servants to ensure that such exercises are carried out smoothly. Why then should teachers be required to apply for leave to go and mark? This is unreasonable,” said Rari.
In any case, he said, most of the teachers cannot apply for leave as their leave days are exhausted.
“Some teachers have even been told that they are in arrears as they owe government leave days.
Experienced markers may not be able to partake in marking because they will not be granted leave.
The whole marking exercise just might collapse because of this unreasonable demand,” said Rari.
In a bid to resolve the impasse, BOSETU executives last week approached the Permanent Secretary in the MoE to ask her to reverse the memo. She had, however, not given them a reply by the time of going to press.
BOSETU has warned that in the event that MoE decides to proceed with their demands, teachers will be urged not to partake in the marking exercise.
“It is a fact that the invigilation exercise is proceeding smoothly because teachers are in the forefront, unlike last year. We stand at risk of reversing the gains that we have made, and sparking yet another exam crisis, if government proceeds with her stubborn demands,” he said.
The issue of overtime and hours of work for teachers has soured relations between teachers and the employer. Before the new Public Service Act was enacted, teachers unions and government engaged in transitional negotiations to try and iron out thorny issues that would emerge after the implementation of the Act. The issue of hours of work and overtimes has so far remained unresolved, and negotiations between the two parties are ongoing.
The PSA dictates that all public servants should work for a maximum of 9 hours a day, of which the extra 1 hour will be considered overtime. However, this created a problem for teachers, as they could previously work up to 13 hours a day, extending their working hours to evenings and weekends when they engaged in extra mural activities and offered remedial lessons to students.
“Teachers therefore demanded that the new act should address the extra hours that they put in. While negotiations are on-going, teachers have resolved to work normal hours, reporting for duty at 7:30 am and knocking off at 16:30 pm. Any extra hours worked should be considered overtime,” said Rari.
The decision has badly affected students, as teachers no longer offer remedial lessons or supervise extra mural activities and course work. The impasse was worsened by government’s demand that teachers should no longer go on vacation with students when schools close, but report to work like any other public servant. The decision to demand that teachers who want to go for marking should apply for leave will only add fire to the confrontation between teachers and government.
“For the sake of students’ welfare, the issue of leave days and hours of work should be set aside until negotiations with the employer are concluded. The MoE’s interference is regrettable and will only exacerbate the standoff and derail the smooth progression of the marking exercise,” warned Rari.