Mbabane: The Eswatini National Association of Teachers (SNAT) has issued a press statement directing teachers not to heed government’s call for teachers to return to schools on July 6.
The president of the teachers’ association, Mbongwa Dlamini, said the Ministry of Education and Training, and by extension government is placing the lives of teachers at risk by not having implemented safety measures in schools in the wake of the Covid-19 rising numbers of confirmed cases. At the time of writing this, Eswatini stood at 706 confirmed Covid-19 cases with 8 deaths.
The president said regarding the reopening of schools on July 6 as directed by the PS in the ministry of education, it was not possible for the teachers to respond to the positive. He said the ministry began by stalling the training of teachers on combating the scourge in preparation for the reopening, all without an explanation. “As we speak by now the training on the prevention of contracting and the spread of the pandemic would have wrapped up and teachers would be ready to return to schools but a lot was left unattended,” said Dlamini. He added that when the training program started all was well but the process crumbled as they progressed.
The president said an extract of the training module issued that in the wake of the pandemic there was what is called non-negotiable practices, which should be met by the schools with government’s assistance without fail. However, said the president, when the association looked at the check list a lot had not been implemented.
The president cited the Occupational Health Act 9(1), which gives the employer obligation to prepare the workplace, rendering it conducive for duties. Dlamini mentioned that since this week, as the teachers’ association they had been conducting inspection of schools to satisfy themselves that this Act had been applied, but they were dismayed to find that little or nothing had been done. “We found that only a few changes had been effected as safety measures while most of the schools had done nothing at all,” said Dlamini.
He said essential necessities like water had not been attended to, and all that could be seen were the water tanks. He said recently, they were in a meeting with the ministry of education for clarity on how possible it was for schools to reopen with some safety measures not implemented.
“What we were told in this meeting is that it is the teachers who needed to prepare the schools for the reopening,” said the president, while suggesting that the teachers had only been called to go and clean.
Dlamini said it was clear that their members were being treated as guinea pigs which are used for scientific experimentation, and they would put their foot down on that. In fact, it was neither theirs nor the pupils’ duties to clean schools, let alone the fact that with the Covid-19 pandemic there is the need for trained personnel who would fumigate premises.
“We have seen how these people dress up, in the likes of the Personal Protective Equipment, which government did not even make mention of,” said the president.
Dlamini said the ministry issued that they do not know what is needed in order for the reopening and what baffles the mind is how they (ministry) has come to the conclusion that schools must reopen. “Procedurally, what happens is that an assessment is conducted before any place of employment is reopened but the ministry ignored that,” said Dlamini.
The president said another confusion is that the minister of education, Lady Howard-Mabuza, mentioned that an amount of E56 million was needed to enable a smooth reopening of the schools, and yet it was not clear where that financial assistance would come from, adding that they needed conditions to be clearly spelt out.
He note the rate at which the numbers which come with the pandemic are rising and yet government is not clear on provision of protective equipment like masks for the teachers, adding that it is worse that there are those of teachers who bear pre-existing conditions, which would worsen should they contract the virus. All these have not been addressed by the ministry, and yet they are calling for our members to go to school, said the president.
Dlamini said there is also the issue of protocol which must be observed before the teachers can return to school, which includes the filling of forms, stating the health condition of the teacher. This would help to know if whether or not a teacher got sick or injured while in the line of duty, which would assist in compensation, said Dlamini. He added that oftentimes government is ignorant of this part of the protocol which results in not owning up to consequences.
“So, we advise our members that due to the Covid-19 situation that has now become worse than when it started that they stay at home until government implements Section 9 (1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. “We ask teachers to consider Section 18 of the same Act, which says one is obliged to remove oneself from a hazardous situation.
Dlamini said in fact, government uses the same section when a teacher encounters a sickness or injury while in the line of duty, and when a teacher files a claim government challenges them saying they were negligent in not avoiding the dangerous situation.
Dlamini said it is for the aforementioned reasons that they cannot allow their members to return to schools on July 6, until government implements Section 9 (1) of Occupational Health and Safety Act. On a parting shot the president called upon teachers to do what is required of them as enshrined in Section 18 of the same Act.
Drawn for comment, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Bertram Steward, said he knew nothing about teachers resolving not to return to schools on July 6. Steward said in fact, he was in a meeting with the executive of the teachers’ association early today where a lot of things were discussed, yet nothing along the lines of not heeding government’s call for teachers to return to schools came up. “We sat in a meeting with SNAT and there was no mention of not going back to school,” said Steward before hanging up.