15 000 TEACHERS STILL WAITING TO BE REIMBURSED: WEEKEND POST

SOME 15 000 Eastern Cape teachers who did not take part in last year’s national teacher strike are owed more than R50-million by the beleaguered Education Department, despite promises to reimburse them monies docked from their salaries as part of a “blanket” punishment.

More than a year after the strike – which crippled education in the province during August and September – non-striking teachers are still fighting to get their money back after the department implemented a blanket approach to make salary deductions as a result of the protest action.

The deductions were made in February and March and some teachers lost more than half their salaries.

DA education spokesman Edmund van Vuuren said the deductions could amount to at least R50-million as each teacher lost about R1 000 to R1 500 every day of the strike.

“The department promised the education portfolio committee in a meeting in July that reimbursements would take place by the end of September. It is now October. The department has once again failed to deliver on its promises,” Van Vuuren said.

The department earlier this year agreed it would reimburse the non-striking teachers later in the year, but many feared this undertaking would not be honoured because soon after the deductions were made the department was placed under national administration.

The department was placed under administration in February following the collapse of service delivery, the dismissal of about 6 000 temporary teachers, problems with the school nutrition programme, non-delivery of textbooks and stationery and the suspension of pupil transport.

It now appears these fears were not unfounded.

Van Vuuren said he had been inundated with complaints from teachers across the province about non-payment. “Between 10 000 and 15 000 teachers, excluding those who belong to the South African Democratic Teachers Union, are still waiting to be reimbursed,” he said.

One of these teachers is Trevor Roman, principal of the Northern Lights School in Cotswold, Port Elizabeth. Roman said he was still playing “catch-up” after R7 000 was deducted from his salary.

He has had to approach his creditors to make arrangements for late payments.

He added he had one child at school and another at university and that all these expenses had to be paid.

He said the majority of his staff were in the same boat.

Roman added if he did not receive their money before the end of the year, he would take legal action against the department.

Another teacher from Fort Beaufort, who did not want to be named as she feared it would hamper her chances for reimbursement, said the ordeal had turned her “life upside down”.

The primary school teacher is a diabetic and has to eat special food to manage her illness. Some of these foods are very expensive.

Due to the financial pressure caused by the drastic salary cuts – which in her case was about half – she has had to sacrifice her strict diet plan and put her health at risk.

“This has affected me very badly. I also have children studying out of town and have to pay for their tuition, accommodation and travel. With such a large portion of your salary gone, it is difficult to keep head above water.”

A Port Elizabeth teacher, who also did not want to be named, said all she had received since the deductions were “empty promises”.

“The department is purposefully using delaying tactics and is now shifting the date for reimbursement to November 30,” Van Vuuren said.

Education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani could not be reached for comment before going to print.