Unions to fight against classification of education and public transport sectors as essential services

Cosatu members and workers at the May Day rally in Port Elizabeth this year. Photo by Joseph Chirume

SADTU and SATAWU have vowed to make submissions against the essentialisation of education and public transport sector

Cape Town, South Africa

The Department of Labour’s Essential Services Committee (ESC) is investigating whether public transport and education should

be considered essential services with oral presentations kicking off in Port Elizabeth on the 11th of July.

Trade unions in education and transport have indicated that they will oppose the the motion. The South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (SATAWU) have told Elitsha that their sectors will not be classified as essential services.

SADTU’s spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said, “Education is essential but it does not meet the legal criteria of an ‘essential service’ as defined by the law,” she said. The Democratic Alliance and some political analysts like Professor Jonathan Jansen have blamed the union for the poor quality of education.

“Those propagating for the essentialisation of education want to create an impression that strikes are the leading cause of poor education or that they expose learners to danger. This is not true as no scientific argument has been presented to prove that strikes lead to poor education. It is not that we strike at a drop of a hat. Strikes come as a last resort,” said Cembi.

She added that this is not the first time that the education sector is being investigated, that it was the opposition party which made the application previously but was turned down, on the basis of the definition of ‘essential service’ by the ILO and in the Labour Relations Act.

The Democratic Alliance has said that they will visit SADTU’s headquarters to call on the union to accept “a minimum service level declared for key school staff by the Essential Services Commission (ESC).” The union has described this as an electioneering stunt.

Meanwhile SATAWU says that public transport is not essential as the lives of passengers are not endangered by a drivers’ strike.

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“No one’s life is endangered when public transport services are interrupted. For instance, no one died during the recent bus strike. Admittedly, there were delays but no one died. Besides, public transport users have several modes of transport available to them if one is interrupted. During the bus strike people had the option of using taxis and Metrorail trains. In addition, different transport sectors do not go on strike at the same time [and] therefore users will always have an option,” said the union spokesperson, Zanele Sabela.

“SATAWU does not support this move and it is obvious the Labour department has ran out of ideas,” she added.

In April, bus drivers embarked on a strike to demand better working conditions, including the end of the ‘foot on the pedal’ practice of only paying a driver for the time they were actually driving and for the industry to comply with the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) when it comes to the night shift.

The strike dragged for almost a month with unions blaming the employer organisations for bargaining in bad faith. Bus fares for Golden Arrow Bus Services in Cape Town, meanwhile, went up 5% from the 2nd of July by agreement between the company and the Western Cape Department of Transport.

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