ABET teachers lament poor working conditions

Members of the South African Abet Educators Union, Eastern Cape, picketing on Friday outside the Port Elizabeth High Court. They said the least paid worker earns R7,000 with the highest getting R10,000. They are demanding at least R12,000 a month. Photo by Joseph Chirume

A group of dissatisfied government college lecturers last Friday demonstrated in front of the Port Elizabeth High Court demanding better salaries and improved working conditions.

Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, South Africa

A group of dissatisfied government college lecturers last Friday demonstrated in front of the Port Elizabeth High Court demanding better salaries and improved working conditions.

The lecturers teach basic education to adult learners and youth in townships, mostly in the afternoon at local schools.

They are members of the South African ABET Educators Union. They had brought their case against the Departments of Higher Education and Training (DHET) and of Basic Education over a 37% salary dispute to the Labour Court.

Speaking during the picket, Mkhululi Vava, chairman of South African Educators Union said that the two departments of education were dragging their feet to pay them a 37% salary difference meant for benefits. He said his union had won every previous court case where the departments were respondents.

Vava explained, “We have lecturers who were previously contracted to the Department of Basic Education but migrated to Higher Education and Training in April, 2016 – this after an unsolved standoff with Basic Education over a salary shortfall of 37%. Currently these lecturers are paid on a 63% threshold, meaning they don’t get statutory benefits.”

“The 37% should be paid to them in lieu of those benefits. That money hasn’t been paid to them. This is stipulated in Resolution (1) of 2007. It’s been seven years now this case has been dragging on in the courts and we have won on every occasion, including with the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration and in various labour courts.”

Vava said the Department of Basic Education in all instances has failed to give a convincing reason why they should not pay the lecturers the outstanding money.

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“They have been stalling and delaying the process. Hence we are saying enough is enough We will continue with picketing until our money is paid. “added Vava.

Mkhululi Vava said there are about 2,500 members in the Eastern Cape alone. Photo by Joseph Chirume

Lonwabo Hempe lives with his family in Uitenhage. He said he has been a lecturer for many years but that his dream of living a modest life is fast fading. He holds a diploma in Adult Education and another diploma in Teaching.

The 32-year-old single father of two said he will not give up agitating for the 37%. He revealed that he will be mobilising other disgruntled lecturers to ramp up pressure for the government to pay them their outstanding salaries.

Lonwabo said, “We want the government to treat us fairly and with respect. We have educators who have been working in the sector since 1994 but they are still employed as contract workers. They don’t have benefits and if they were to die today, retire, get expelled or even get injured, they would have no benefits at all. Their families will suffer.”

“We even strive very hard to educate ourselves without any assistance from the government. The 37% is therefore to cater for allowances like medical care, housing allowances, transport and other social allowances.”

Patricia Mqiki is the sole breadwinner in a family of seven. The 58-year-old grandmother said she joined the government as a lecturer in 2007 after having taught at various  private colleges for many years.

The Motherwell-based educator explained, “I am highly experienced and I am passionate about teaching. I have been renewing my contract on a yearly basis. What baffles my mind is the reality that  I will walk away with nothing from the department. It makes me weak that I will be even  poorer than I was when I joined the department ten years ago.”

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“We also work under hostile conditions because we have to go door to door recruiting our students. Most of the students are family people who easily drop out as a result of family problems but the department insists that we fill the classes otherwise we won’t have jobs. They don’t even help us in this regard.”

Patricia said the DHET does not provide for teaching aids and classrooms. She said they are  always at the mercy of some arrogant school principals who deny them the use of classrooms.

“We want the same treatment as mainstream lecturers. We were not hand picked from the streets but we had to attain good qualifications in order to qualify as lecturers. We are professionals and we should have benefits,” added Patricia.

Uitenhage-based Monwabisi Tufana said he feels very low and worthless when seeing some of his friends who work for the government owning cars and having spacious houses of their own.

The 37-year-old father of two said he did a course in Engineering. He said he was teaching computer courses in KwaNobuhle.

He said, “Because I don’t have a better job I can’t qualify for a government subsidy to buy a house. Even banks are hesitant to give me a loan because they consider me as a risk. I hope the government will give in to our demands.”

The court case was postponed to next year.

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About Joseph Chirume 14 Articles
I was born in the shoe manufacturing town of Gweru in Zimbabwe,1970. I came to South Africa and did some odd jobs before writing for a number of publications. At present I am doing a Masters in Journalism through distance learning.