High Court confirms Mpumalanga Education Department, unions infringed upon rights of learners of Estralita Special School; grants urgent court interdict

01/08/2023 - Fedsas

The actions of union members who refuse to work night and weekend shifts as well as the failure by the Mpumalanga Education Department to act against these workers have infringed upon the right to education of learners of the Estralita Special School.

This was the finding of the Mpumalanga High Court in an application by the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS), the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) and the Estralita school governing body. The court application was a last resort to resolve a labour dispute that has been disrupting school activities for more than a year. The school was closed for the entire second quarter of this year, mainly because shift workers are refusing to work night and weekend shifts in the school hostels. The severe intellectual challenges that the learners face require the presence of at least two shift workers and an educator during night and weekend shifts.

Estralita provides education from grades R to 6 to learners with severe intellectual disabilities. The school caters for about 200 learners between the ages of five and 21, with most learners receiving care in the two school hostels.

 “The court has granted a temporary interdict that orders the Mpumalanga Education Department, and specifically the MEC and the Head of Department, to take immediate steps. This includes obtaining alternative services to make sure that hostel learners have access to specialised care,” according to Ms Juané van der Merwe, Deputy CEO of FEDSAS, and Mr Chris Klopper, CEO of the SAOU.The court also ordered the provincial education department to investigate any misconduct by shift workers, and to take disciplinary action where necessary. A temporary interdict was also granted against the South African Police Service to order members to prevent any disruptive actions by shift workers on the premises of Estralita.

The case will be before the court again on 22 August this year. The Mpumalanga Education Department and the unions involved will then have the opportunity to show cause why a final order should not be granted.

FEDSAS and the SAOU agree that this matter could have been resolved long ago if the provincial education department demonstrated leadership from the start. “It is unthinkable that for more than a year the Mpumalanga Education Department just watched as unions used vulnerable learners as pawns in a power struggle. The actions of the shift workers are equally reprehensible and not only infringed upon the learners’ right to education but endangered their lives.”

Committed officials, educators and workers are necessary for the education system to function optimally. FEDSAS and the SAOU agree that it is time that individuals be held accountable in their personal capacity where the rights of children are violated. 

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