Peeved primary school teachers up in arms

. . . draw battle lines with unions, govt over salary structure

NEO SENOKO

MASERU – Battle lines are drawn between Lesotho primary school teachers one one hand, and trade unions and government on the other, over the new career and salary structure that is set to be implemented in April. Under the new structure, teachers’ salaries have been adjusted by between zero and 3.8 percent, but primary school teachers who are not members of existing trade unions formations argue the structure does not catered for them, therefore it should not be implemented.

The teachers have, have as a result, dragged government through the Ministry of Education, along with trade unions the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU), Lesotho Association of Teachers (LAT) and the Lesotho Schools Principal Association (LESPA) to court in a bid to block the implementation of the new structure.

The three trade unions, on the other hand, argue that while the new structure may have some flaws, it should be implemented in April as scheduled and contentious issues will be dealt with along the way. This, they say, is particularly because even the old structure had its own flaws.

All the three unions were part of the processes leading to the compilation of the new structure. United, they have managed to wrestle government to eventually set up the structure. Comparatively, under the old structure that was last reviewed back in 2009, teachers with similar qualifications were put under the same salary across the board, which is not the case under the new 2019 structure.

“The new structure is different in that the consultant came with a different model that looked into the assessment of each individual in the system as well as the job evaluation to determine the worth of each individual. “The exercise then resulted in teachers with the same qualifications earning different salaries as salaries now depend on what position one holds,” said ’Mapitso Molai, representative of the subject tripartite coalition of trade unions in an interview with Public Eye on yesterday.

The difference, according to Molai, is such that primary school teachers now earn less than their counterparts with the same qualifications at secondary level. The gap between primary school teachers that hold a diploma qualification and their counterparts at secondary level is around M264 while those that are in possession of a degree qualification at primary level are projected to yearn M116 less than their counterparts at secondary and high school level.

“That is actually how the matter ended in courts of law where some primary school teachers want to block the implementation of the new structure. But we are saying the structure should be allowed to continue, then we will deal with issues as we go.

“This is particularly because we worked extremely hard for this to happen, so if we blow this opportunity we may never get it again,” added Molai, who is also the Secretary General of the Lesotho Teachers Trade Union (LTTU). The Ministry of Education, on the other hand, declined to comment on these developments when approached by Public Eye, indicating the matter was already in court.

Teachers in Lesotho have been fighting for the new structure for most part of 2019, initially demanding a salary increase of eight percent as well as improved working conditions. Government said, however, that it could not afford an eight percent increase, prompting teachers to go on a prolonged strike. The introduction of the new, improved structure brings to an end a series of strikes that rocked the country most of 2019, resulting in poor performance in both Junior Certificate (JC) and LGCSE results.

The 2019 JC performance dropped from 65.5 percent in 2018 to 62.4 percent in 2019, registering a 3.1 percent decline. A total of 5 629 students, 37.6 percent of students who sat for the JC examination failed. For the LGCSE, the general performance dropped sharply from 72 percent in 2019 to a staggering 64 percent in 2019. The government of Lesotho has always been reluctant to increase salaries, citing an already high wage bill.

In 2019, the Minister of Finance, Dr Moeketsi Majoro, explained during his budget speech presentation that government spending was estimated at a high of around 47 percent of national output. Thus, compared with the private sector, he added, the government sector is disproportionately large and is likely to crowd out private investment, which explains in part the fragility of private business in Lesotho.

He emphasised that half of this already high spending bill is accounted for by wages and salaries. The bill for only 47 000 employees, for instance, is larger than the individual contributions of many important sectors of the economy including the mining, agriculture and construction sectors. Fast forward to his 2020 presentation, he reiterated once again that government expects the wage bill to drive total spending.

In January this year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission to Lesotho also warned that further increases in wages and other perquisites of government workers, already among the highest in the world compared to the size of the economy, risk crowding out essential programmes in the short term. “…the only sustainable basis for higher public sector wages over the long run would be a stronger and more vibrant private sector, which could provide the necessary tax base,” the IMF mission added in a statement.

 

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