Concerns over concession leave granted to teachers

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Some educators, who have chronic ailments that are flagged as high-risk co-morbidities for the coronavirus, have raised concerns over the processing of concession leave applications.

Government has committed to protecting high-risk civil servants by either granting them leave or approving that they work from home.

Some teachers, who have been approved to work from home, say they have not been provided with the necessary resources to work remotely.

Impact of COVID-19 on the teaching profession: 

The teachers, who asked to remain anonymous, say more should be done to ensure fairness in the processing of concession applications by their provincial education departments.

They say though government guidelines are clear on which chronic conditions are considered high-risk for complications should they get infected with COVID-19, many of their colleagues were advised by their circuit officials not to submit their applications at all as they do not qualify.

The teachers also say that the applications that have been approved took long to be processed before they were informed of the outcome.

“We are hoping that the issue of co-morbidities, there are some educators who have applied because they have got underlying issues. We are hoping that the department will approve so that they can give us replacements as soon as possible,” one teacher says.

“My application was approved for me to work from home. Unfortunately, resources for me to be able to work efficiently from home were not given to me. I work at a fairly large school; without the resources, it’s hard for me to get what needs to be done and it put frustrations on me and my colleagues.”

Teachers’ union Sadtu says the delays are country-wide, with the North West forcing teachers to work while they await responses to their applications.

The union’s Mugwena Maluleke says this is a violation of guidelines agreed to at the Bargaining Council.

“We hear that the department has been able to approve about 22 000 from the 29 000 applications. We, however, have noted that there are provinces that are not. For example, Free State has not responded, Northern Cape has not responded, North West is really violating the agreement because what North West is doing is to say go wait for your application to be responded to whilst you’re at work and this has really put a number of teachers at risk.”

Maluleke adds that some challenges still remain, in terms of the provision of resources and communication tools for educators that are working from home.

“So the next level is the issue of whether they are enabled to work at home. In other schools, in particular the rural schools, those teachers are still not able to do work at home because there are no communication gadgets or tools of the trade that can enable the teacher to be able to do the work. So it is still a challenge that impacts the learners, the teachers and the community.”

Limpopo Education Spokesperson Tidimalo Chuene could not confirm the number of substitute educators that the province has roped in to assist temporarily, adding most schools have restructured their timetables to best utilise their limited staff compliments and resources.

“We have received over 2 000 applications; thus far, 1914 have been granted. Educators who are granted concessions are not on leave, they are considered to be at work and therefore expected to perform work assignments even though from home, providing support to those who are at school. There are arrangements, although very limited, to either restructure their timetable within the limited number of classrooms and educators or to provide a substitute educator where it is applicable.”

According to the spokesperson of the national Department of Public Service and Administration, Dumisani Nkhwamba, the processing of concession applications has been decentralised to affected provincial departments, with each Director-General responsible setting approval guidelines.