Education and Labour Relations Council Annual Report 2008/09 briefing

Basic Education

19 October 2009
Chairperson: Ms M Kubayi (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Education and Labour Relations Council (ELRC) briefing the Committee on its Annual Report and its role. South Africa faced significant challenges in public education, and performance results indicated the need for significant review and improvement of the systems. ELRC had chosen its theme for the year as ‘Negotiating Professionalism through Sound Labour Relations’. ELRC explained that all its negotiations as a bargaining council focused on professionalism amongst educators as the cornerstone of policies. ELRC’s primary business was the promotion and maintenance of labour peace in the public education sector through dispute resolution, and dispute prevention services. The grievances and disputes of educators and officials were resolved through conciliation and/or arbitration. The secondary business of the Council was collective bargaining in the form of negotiation, consultations and information sharing, providing a forum in which the State and the trade unions could develop policies that should ultimately contribute to professionalism and improvement of outcomes. The Further Education and Training (FET) sector was now included.

ELRC was coordinating the Laptop Initiative for Teachers, in which every teacher was encouraged to take a laptop into the classroom to enable the learners to benefit from technology. It also managed the Prevention, Care and Treatment Access programme on behalf of the Trade Unions. ELRC provided full time shop stewards to represent educators in disciplinary matters and arbitration hearings, and it would also represent unions in negotiations and consultations at national and provincial levels. It would also assist and communicate with educators about education, employment and trade union related matters, and would assist the unions in monitoring employer compliance with the provisions of collective agreements and workplace-related laws. Whilst it recognised that there were problems with infrastructure, this did not detract from the quality education that was often being provided and that was recognised with awards. The ELRC explained what Occupation Specific Dispensation for teachers hoped to achieve. The challenge for the next five years was to put professionalism at the centre of all negotiations and ensure that it underpinned everything that ELRC would do.

Members asked a wide variety of questions. Several asked for clarification on the HIV/AIDS programmes and stressed that this should tie in with other national initiatives, and also be run in conjunction with other departments. Some members questioned whether the laptop initiative constituted the core business of ELRC, but most welcomed the initiative, whilst also noting that this should not detract from the need to provide basic infrastructure still in areas where this was lacking. Members asked for further details on Occupation Specific Dispensation, questioned the research that was being done, and asked what was to be done with the cash surplus over the next three years, and whether the inclusion of the FET sector would affect it. Members also asked about the dispute resolution, the numbers of disputes and their main cause, the procedural problems in disputes, as also what preventative actions were being taken by ELRC. Members also asked for further clarity on the notion of negotiating professionalism, what the success rates had been, and what the targets were. The ELRC was asked to provide further reports to the Committee by 16 November in answer to questions on finances and targets.

Meeting report

Education and Labour Relations Council (ELRC): Annual Report briefing
The Acting Chairperson noted that the Chairperson, Ms Fatima Chohan (ANC) was involved with another parliamentary engagement.

Mr Mahalingum (Dhaya) Govender, General Secretary, ELRC, noted that South Africa was facing significant challenges in public education. Public education was not what it was expected to be, and the performance, as measured through examination results on numeracy and literacy tests, dictated that the system was in need of significant review and improvement. In its fifteenth year, the ELRC had chosen as its theme ‘Negotiating Professionalism through Sound Labour Relations’. Teachers were first and foremost professionals who provided a social service in the field of public education, and accordingly had to uphold professional ethics, values and standards. To that end, negotiations in the Education Labour Relations Council must significantly focus on professionalism amongst educators, as the cornerstone of the development of policies that emerged from the Education Labour Relations Council. Those policies were normally reflected in collective agreements.

The President was at the forefront in ensuring that teachers were in classrooms, on time, and teaching, so the presentation focused on the quality learning and teaching campaign that the ELRC was spearheading. He pointed out that this was the only bargaining council in the country that was compliant with the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).

Mr Govender noted that ELRC was guided by the Batho Pele principles and values. It valued people that it served and those with whom it worked, who were teachers, the South African public and the child, and the child came first. It was committed to be fair, ethical, trustworthy and accountable. It endeavoured to be customer-service orientated. The Council aimed to work together as a team, encouraging cooperation, strove to achieve and maintain excellence at all levels, and was committed to development and capacity building of staff. It also encouraged innovation as a means to address issues and seek better ways to achieve goals.

Mr Govender said that ELRC fulfilled its mandate to promote and maintain labour peace in public education. The last major strike that teachers conducted through the ELRC was in 1997. Occasional skirmishes had occurred, the last being the teachers in Soweto.

The ELRC’s constitution was amended to include the Further Education and Training (FETC) sector as a bargaining unit.

ELRC contributed towards and managed a Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign, which had a focus of getting teachers in classrooms and teaching, as a precondition to improving the results of the children. It also worked towards Teacher Development after the Summit, and focused on improving the qualifications and quality of teachers, again to ensure better outcomes for children. The ELRC was coordinating work to ensure that the Laptop Initiative for Teachers would unfold later this year or early next year, in which every teacher was encouraged to take a laptop into the classroom so that the children could benefit from the technology available. I was in Year Two of the HIV/AIDS intervention programme called PCTA (Prevention, Care and Treatment Access) that ELRC managed on behalf of the Trade Unions.

During the period under review the ELRC did not defend or engage in any court actions. The dispute resolution outcomes of the arbitration awards taken on review increased from 17 to 23.

The Accounting Officer’s Report noted that the primary business of the Council was the promotion and maintenance of labour peace in the public education sector through dispute resolution (and prevention) services. To that end the grievances and disputes of educators and officials were resolved through conciliation and/or arbitration. The secondary business of the Council was collective bargaining in the form of negotiation, consultations and information sharing, a forum in which the State and the trade unions could develop policies that should ultimately contribute to professionalism and improvement of outcomes.

The presenters then outlined the numbers of disputes, noting that these had dropped compared to the previous year, which indicated that parties were able to resolve issues more amongst themselves. The kinds of disputes with which it dealt were those under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, remuneration matters, unfair labour practices, unfair dismissal and interpretation and application of collective agreement disputes.

Mr Govender shared some very important awards, which had been posted on the website and were public knowledge. He noted that the Alleged Unfair Dismissals gave an indication as to what the Department was doing about enforcing values and standards. The bulk of disputes related to alleged unfair labour practices relating to appointments, promotions or demotions. Promotions and appointments were important and if not handled correctly and speedily, schools might be in the situation where there was no proper management. There was a fair between the applicants and the employers, but generally the departments won more cases.

Mr Govender pointed out that training and development largely improved the quality of dispute resolution processes.

Ms Cindy Foca, Senior Manager: Collective Bargaining, ELRC, briefed the Committee on Programme 2: Dispute Prevention and Support Services. Collective Agreement No. 2 of 2007 made provision for full time shop stewards to deliver on the union work, by carrying out the mandate of promoting and maintaining the labour force. It enabled the ELRC to deliver dispute prevention support services in public education, and the appointment of trade union officials to facilitate negotiations in terms of collective agreements, consultations, and dispute resolution and dispute prevention. The collective agreement made provision for 120 shop stewards. The number of 120 was fixed and the only variation was in terms of allocation across provinces.
She explained the composition of the unions and the Combined Trade Unions, as all unions that had under 50 000 members formed an agreement with others.

The full time shop stewards would represent educators in disciplinary and conciliation and arbitration hearings, represented unions in negotiations and consultations, both at national and provincial levels, and was involved in the HIV/AIDS intervention programmes. They also assisted and communicated with educators about education, employment and Trade Union related matters,  assisted trade unions in monitoring the employer’s compliance with provisions of Collective Agreements and workplace related laws, and reported any alleged contravention of a workplace-related provision of any law and any Collective Agreement binding on employer and employee, the trade union and responsible authority or agency.

Ms Foca moved on to describe Programme 3: Negotiations Support Services (Collective Bargaining). This was also a responsibility of the shop stewards. It determined how many seats each union was entitled to in the collective bargaining processes. Collective Agreement No. 5 of 2008 related to the establishment of a bargaining unit to provide a forum for bargaining for the educators and lecturers in the FET sector.

Performance at a provincial level had been questioned in previous years but the ELRC Executive committee had since taken a decision to run a workshop with all provincial leaders to share the best practices in order to improve on the performance of all those provinces. The collective agreements concluded at provincial level were significantly lower than those concluded at national level. The significant drop in the performance of the national office in 2006/07, in terms of concluding collective agreements, was mainly due to the labour unrest that prevailed in the public sector at large, which affected activities in the bargaining council.

Mr Govender continued with a description of Programme 4: Executive Services. He noted that ELRC had spoken out against xenophobic attacks and intervened in the FETC sector’s potential labour unrest in KwaZulu-Natal.

Mr Govender then described the laptop initiative in more detail. Work on this was started in May. ELRC met with all laptop manufacturers and connectivity suppliers to try to negotiate a cost-effective bundle. Mr Govender prepared a report that was handed to the Director-General (DG), and trade union leaders and the DG would have to meet to finalise that before it was forwarded to the Minister.
The proposals made were “one stop” to allow teachers to choose from the consortiums that had put in their proposals, in that they could get a product with software, insurance and finance included in one place. The teachers were free to buy from any supplier of their choice. Negotiations with Vodacom and MTN were able to significantly drop the price for connectivity for teachers.

Mr Jeff Moshakga, Chief Financial Officer, ELRC, moved on to describe Programme 5, which dealt with the finances. Because it was a bargaining council, the ELRC’s funding came 50% from the employer and 50% from the employee. The employees were the educators and the employers were the nine provincial departments of education. From the time of its establishment, up to 2007, there had been no increase in levies contributed by employers and employees. Negotiations were then started to increase the levies to fund the programmes and projects that were increasingly being allocated to the Council, to contribute towards the objectives of the Council. The levy rose from R2 to R10, with R5 being contributed by employer and employee. It was agreed that the bulk of that increase would be spent and allocated to the prevention of disputes, hence the 30% earmarked for full time shop stewards in education.

In terms of the PFMA, the Council was not allowed to budget for a deficit. In some years expenditure was shown as more than revenue. During the good years, when income exceeded expenditure, that was accumulated into reserves for use during the times when expenditure exceeded income. Accumulated reserves were used to supplement income, in order to balance the budget.

Accounting Standard Boards prescribed how public entities reported. In future the Council would have to report to Parliament in terms of variances in what was budgeted for, and explain the reason for those variances.

Mr Moshakga noted that the financial statements seemed on the face of it to indicate an accumulation of revenue that was not being used, but he explained that the funds were already being used now, and would be exhausted by 2013. From next year, the ELRC would begin negotiations to ensure that levies received were increased in order to meet future development. Income from the FET sector would only be reflected in the 2009/10 financial year. He said that the ELRC’s financial position was satisfactory and it was in a position to meet all commitments. It had  assets amounting to R58 million, the bulk of which was cash on hand. R7 million of total assets was invested in a building, so ELRC were not paying rental for the premises used. The major liability was in trade and receivables of R22 million, of which the bulk was commitments relating to shop stewards in education.

PCTA (Prevention, Care and Treatment Access)
Dr Puleng Ramataboe, Executive Manager, PCTA,  presented the Council’s HIV/AIDS programme. A study by Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) in 2005 indicated that 12.7% of educators were already living with HIV/AIDS. The ELRC, together with Department of Education (DOE) and other partners, agreed to implement a comprehensive mitigation programme. The programme was funded by the US Government for Diseases Control and was in the third of a five-year cycle. The goal was to reduce the number of HIV infections amongst educators and their families and to mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS on educators. That was done by expanding access to Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT), providing Anti-Retroviral Therapy (ART), giving care and support for those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and providing TB screening and treatment for HIV infected educators.

The Cascading Peer Education Model was used, where the union leaders were trained as master trainers, who trained Peer Educators, who would then reach out to educators in schools with prevention messages. The majority of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa were women. The project had a high proportion of women educators that were able to impart knowledge. Empowering educators in HIV/AIDS was unique, and it was implemented through the union structures, to mobilise communities and effect social change. Reporting was done on prevention, voluntary counselling and testing and system strengthening.

Dr Ramataboe outlined the results of the two years. Each union was to ensure that during events and activities voluntary counselling and testing services were accessible. Challenges were identified as institutionalising peer education in schools, the lack of time available to teachers in the terms, the lack of sustainable funding sources, and linkages to the national Monitoring and Evaluation system. The ELRC learned that close collaboration with DOE would assure greater impact, and strategic partnerships with other groups would be very beneficial.

Mr Govender said that the FETC bargaining council could not sustain itself and would have to cross-subsidise the sector for over R1 million, whilst the FET sector would rely on money from the Basic Education sector. Ultimately there would be four bargaining units, two for basic education and two for FET. In future, ELRC would be measured not only on the numbers of collective agreements, but on how those agreements contributed towards improved learning outcomes for children in the schools.
The slow pace of negotiations in the ELRC may have seriously compromised or delayed the benefits that would have accrued to educators, so the parties would have to engage in faster processes in collective bargaining. Professionalism must become the cornerstone upon which to measure what was done. There would not be any need for provincial chambers to sign agreements in a province unless it related to matters entirely unique to that province.

Discussion
Mr D Smiles (DA) appreciated the presentation, saying the pictures seemed to represent that the Council wanted people to “sing from the same song sheet”, which was visionary, and that the end users of the labour peace were the children. Mr Smiles asked whether the shop stewards were also singing from the same song sheet, which he somehow doubted. In relation to programme 1, Mr Smiles questioned who was taking care of the salary problems while teachers were involved in unrest. He commented that there had been little mention of Occupation Specific Dispensation (OSD) in the presentation. He supported Mr Govender’s views on quality teaching, as it was really about what should be happening in the classroom. He commended the Council on the Teacher Development Summit. However, he would like to know whether any of the laptops would get into the network of already existing infrastructure. He also questioned what ELRC was doing with R29 million cash. He pointed out that there was no research other than that from the HSRC and other research agents, and asked what other research was engaged in to assist in what ELRC wanted to achieve in public education.

Mr Smiles commended the work of the PCTA but said that 12.7% teachers infected would create problems and would all need to work together to see how that could be addressed.

Ms N Gina (ANC) commented on the large percentage of disputes handled, and asked what were the problems in educating and teaching educators and people involved in the Department of Education. She would like to see the percentage of disputes dropping and asked what ELRC was doing to prevent disputes, and what was the nature of those disputes. Ms Gina called for a breakdown of what exactly was done by the ELRC. She also asked whether the surplus was to be used on existing or new programmes over the next three years. She was concerned about increasing subscription fees on educators, bearing in mind that the lecturers from FETC were not yet included.

Ms Gina said that she thought the PCTA should be linked with the Department of Health. The programme catered for educators and their families, but there was a need also to consider what happened to their children if they passed away, hence the need to link with social workers as well.

Mr A Mpotshane (IFP) did not understand the introductory remarks regarding negotiating professionalism, and asked for clarity. He also asked whether there was “excellence in education” that could be celebrated at the moment. He asked what had been the contributing factor to the drop in disputes in the different provinces. He noted that some dismissals were tempered by lack of correct procedures, and asked whether this was in terms of the Labour Relations Act. He appreciated the Quality Learning and Teaching Campaign but said that, especially during election time, some unions tended to leave their classrooms and campaign for certain organisations, leaving the children unattended.

Mr Z Makhubele (ANC) referred to the dispute around the Basic Conditions of Employment, mainly around salaries. He questioned whether the drop in disputes might mean that teachers were now satisfied with their remuneration. He questioned why so many were leaving the country. He noted that the bargaining process was a three-year discussion agreement lasting three years, whereas the unions wanted a situation of going back to annual agreements, and asked what was the current situation. He too asked for details as to what was currently happening with OSD. He further questioned the reason for the deficiencies or weaknesses in procedures that then led to disputes. He also asked for clarification about the Batho Pele principles and whether ELRC had its own values that it would in addition implement. Mr Makhubele noted that Mr Govender had asked for discounted anti-virus software from Sentech, and asked if this was fair. He thought that the laptops initiative was not the core business, and wondered if ELRC was encouraging work that should be done by other institutions.

Ms A Mda (COPE) said the presentation indicated an institution that really knew what it was doing and was responsible with taxpayers’ money. She questioned how far the HIV/AIDS programmes had gone in bringing in other stakeholders to the programmes, to ensure that there were mergers or memoranda of agreements. She noted that there was a threat to sustainability of the programmes on the basis of funds and resources. She appreciated the initiative of the teacher laptop, but pointed out that in some rural areas the children at schools had never seen electricity so the teachers did not have desktop computers, let alone a laptop. She suggested that while the government was piloting this project it must still ensure that it attended to creating the necessary infrastructure to extend it also to other areas, as government was being criticised for having programmes without the necessary infrastructure to back them up.

The Acting Chairperson asked for an indication as to how the HIV/AIDS intervention project that was in place was funded. She also pointed out that there was a National Strategy Plan (NSF) 2007, and asked how the ELRC reported to that. She asked about the success rate on implementation of agreements, and how the targets tied in with what ELRC was doing. In respect of the laptop programme, she queried whether this was really the role of the ELRC, and asked also what targets there were for implementation.

Mr Govender responded that the main issues in dispute resolution were not really the amounts of the salaries, but non-payment, payment not on time, leave disputes or deductions made but not properly explained. All were covered under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. He pointed out that money was not necessarily the answer to every question, so it was not always the main determinant in disputes. The question of salaries was best left to trade unions and employers.

Although OSD was a matter agreed to in principle at the Public Service Coordinating Bargaining Council, the education sector had to begin its own negotiations in 1997 as to what would be appropriate for teachers. South Africa had to treat different sectors of the public service differently. Doctors needed to be remunerated at a level commensurate with their qualifications and the service they rendered, which might be very different from teachers. The challenge for the two major trade unions and the Department  was to set the requirements for the sector. Enough research had been done and it was for the trade unions and the department to put those measures in place. OSD had taken too long, as collective agreements 2 and 4 were only concluded in 2009, and further processes were also delayed. Negotiations should now be speeded up to give teachers a framework for dispensation.

Mr Govender then addressed the questions around the laptops. Government asked the General Secretary to assist with how educators who might have been blacklisted would be able to get finance for their laptops, also to look at of tax on allowances, and assist the trade unions in putting in a proposal. Microsoft and Sentech were approached because they already had both assisted DOE with discounted software and programmes, and were now asked if they could adapt the schools programme to the Laptop Initiative so that teachers would not have to buy the full-price software.

Mr Govender explained that ELRC had become involved because of its role in bringing the Department and trade unions together. It was a neutral forum that could expedite and interact, and had thought that this was an opportunity to respond to the call of the President and the mandate to deliver quality public education. 

Mr Govender agreed that whilst some schools were still being run under trees, quality education could still be provided, and some had been shining examples recognised through the National Teaching Award and the National School Award. Although public education could be criticised, there were still pockets of excellence, which must be recognised and encouraged.

Mr Govender then answered the questions around disputes. KwaZulu Natal at one stage had several hundred disputes declared a year. ELRC worked with the Department and the trade unions to minimise the disputes on promotion, to expedite processes. It created a Dispute Prevention Committee where parties worked through issues, which was the reason why the number of disputes dropped from about 500 to about 144. Promotions and appointments disputes comprised about 60% of all disputes. The first major problem was the lack of quality standards to determine who was eligible for promotion, and anybody could apply, so one school might end up with literally thousands of applications for a few posts. There was a need for better guidelines to inform governing bodies, and OSD should address the situation where a good teacher should in future be able to continue to teach in a classroom and become a specialist teacher or a senior teacher, with proper remuneration, instead of having to move across into administration. A combination of approaches was needed, and that was the basis for the current OSD agreement.

Mr Govender noted that Schedule 8 of the Labour Relations Act provided the guidelines for procedural unfairness, but the DOE had enough regulations setting out what procedures to follow, and if this did not happen then this resulted in procedural unfairness. A finding of procedural unfairness would not necessarily lead to reinstatement, but could involve compensation. That area needed more work so the Department could improve its compliance, and a simpler system was required. 

The Minister and the Director General supported funding for the PCTA programme. There were two programmes for teachers, the ELRC Prevention Care Treatment Access programme in which all unions were involved, and another programme called the Palliative Prevention Care Treatment and OBC, run by the South African Democratic Teachers Union. Both were funded by US government, and the Director General was accountable for money received.

Dr Puleng then addressed the link with the Department of Social Development. DOE was only two years into the programme, and at this stage was only focused on educators and their families, and would include learners as the project grew. Monitoring and Evaluation experts would be used to strengthen capacity in collecting information and reporting statistics, to be able to ensure that interventions were aligned to the National Strategic Plan. The PCTA was aware that it could not go it alone and was seeking partnerships with other groups.

The Acting Chairperson commented that the problem with government in South Africa was the fragmented nature of its programmes. The South African National Aids Council was supposed to coordinate responses, and educators could be part of that, as it should not be difficult to link up the programmes to ensure that the targets were the same. She asked that the Department should improve on the linkages, because it was also difficult to report when funding was found in various places with little coherence, which resulted in resources in PCTA not being utilised properly. She asked Dr Puleng to report to the Committee, within two months, on the links.

Mr Govender agreed with the chairperson. The ELRC was a public entity and everything it did had to be in line with government and its policies. The work of HIV was part of the total plan and was therefore linked to the Department, bringing the unions on board in partnership, and in future there would be a more integrated and coordinated approach.

Mr Moshakga answered the questions in relation to the financial statements. He said ELRC did use available cash for research, and the HSRC was commissioned by the ELRC to do research on the issues of demand and supply, which resulted in the PCTA programme. Other research activities were included in the Annual Report. In regard to concerns that the FET inclusion might increase the surplus, he said that the opposite would happen. Mr Govender had indicated that the ELRC would be subsidising that bargaining unit because its numbers did not make FET self-sustainable on its own. He noted that the cash would be used for core business. The accounting authority must normally approve spending, and ensure that the operations and activities were within the strategic objectives. The ELRC would accede to the request to provide a breakdown in the use of funds for the different operations and projects when reporting on the performance information side.

Mr Govender then explained what he had meant by negotiating professionalism. ELRC was the bargaining council and no matter what agreement was concluded this would ultimately impact on the profession. Professionalism and ethics were at the forefront of all negotiators. OSD was about giving teachers better opportunities, not just to earn more money, but to improve the quality of education, which was the reason for the investment in public educators’ salaries and positions. The challenge for the next five years was to put professionalism at the centre of all negotiations and ensure that it underpinned everything the Council did.

The Council was not currently measuring the success rate of the implementation of collective agreements, which would clearly not be 100%, and perhaps management would have to address that through measurable objectives. There were now clear measures to work towards, and this year, there was identification of proper measures around efficiency, and a study of the impact of agreements and the extent to which they were implemented.

The Acting Chairperson reminded ELRC that the Committee would expect a report as to what was funded and at what level, by the week of 16 November. She asked ELRC to try to measure its success rate of implementation of agreements and asked it also to commence the PCTA linkages and submit a progress report by the same date.

The meeting was adjourned.

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