The Department of Basic Education has issued notice to all teachers who were granted concession to work from home during the nationwide lockdown, to return to work on Monday. This as the country moves to alert Level 1 at midnight on Sunday.

By the end of August, all learners had returned to school amid adherence to strict social distancing and hygiene guidelines.

Thousands of teachers in South Africa have underlying conditions: 

Some 22 500 teachers were granted concessions to work from home as the country battled the coronavirus pandemic and substitute teachers were employed in their absence.

Department Spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga says school management must fulfil the contract with all substitute teachers.

“This is because the collective agreement between teacher unions and the department will cease to exist ad midnight on the 20th of September. We know that there have been substitute teachers who have been employed. We request that schools continue to meet their contractual obligations towards them until such time that their contracts have expired, but they could also find other ways of utilising the services of the substitute teachers.”

Teachers union Sadtu says educators who are not ready to return to school on Monday will have to apply for normal leave.

“Those who are still having some risk of returning they will apply for normal leave in terms of personnel administrative measures so that those particular teachers will be granted leave and, therefore, the school will then qualify for a substitute teacher, unlike in the past when the school had to suffer not being able to get a substitute teacher because the teacher was deemed to be working at home. Now, the teacher will be on leave and the school and automatically qualifies for a substitute teacher,” says Sadtu General-Secretary Mugwena Maluleke.

Concerns over concession leave

In early September, some educators who have chronic ailments that are flagged as high-risk co-morbidities for COVID-19, raised concerns over the processing of concession leave applications.

The teachers, who have been approved to work from home, said they had not been provided with the necessary resources to work remotely.

They said 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.

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

Maluleke said 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.”