Mbabane: The Ministry of Education and Training has issued that the Eswatini National School’s Association (SNAT) should have approached the ministry of labour through its commissioner and not the industrial court in ensuring the conduciveness of operation. Government’s legal representative, Assistant Attorney General, Mbuso Simelane moved before the court that the courts did not have jurisdiction over the matter, calling for its dismissal.
Simelane argued that the applicants would then be directed by the relevant authorities to approach the inspector of health who would examine the schools and compile a report regarding whether or not schools were ready to resume, issuing a prohibitory notice based on the Occupational Health and Safety Act 9(1) if preparedness had not been completed.
Simelane said in terms of common law it was agreeable that employees cannot work under a hazardous environment but it was unfortunate that the schools’ reopening had been promulgated as an Act in Parliament, and all that was needed was to return it there, tabled and revoked. The government representative mentioned that from day one they had brought it to the attention of the SNAT executive to redirect the matter to the right people, but the association went ahead and filed it in court. The matter could best be discussed by the labour ministry and not the courts, argued Simelane.
SNAT’s representative, Lucky Howe, punched holes in the government’s submissions saying they possessed the right to take the matter to structures of choice and were not bound by law where to go. He said the industrial court was a workers’ court and their matter entailed operations which is what the industrial court is all about.
Personal Protective Equipment
The SNAT’s defence counsel argued that government was enabling irreparable harm by not providing the personal protective equipment (PPEs) as part of its precautionary measures when opting to reopen the schools and as such was exposing teachers and learners alike to risks of contracting the coronavirus, and at worst death. Howe said it was clear that the risks were great in view of the rising numbers since the first hearing of the case. He said from the check list, which ironically was compiled by government, a lot had not been done from the inspection of 24 schools.
SNAT moved an application at the industrial court calling for the court to order government to delay the opening of schools until it meets the required standards set by the World Health Organisation in order for teachers to be back at work.
Part of the argument according to papers submitted by the teachers’ association was that learners who will be using public transport to get to school will be exposed to COVID-19 and in turn also expose teachers and parents back home.
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