High Court grants permanent court order that forces Mpumalanga Education Department to resolve labour unrest at Estralita Special School immediately

23/08/2023 - Fedsas

A temporary court order to resolve labour unrest at the Estralita Special School was made permanent by the High Court in Mbombela in Mpumalanga today. This follows after the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS), the South African Teachers’ Union (SAOU) and the Estralita school governing body asked the court for an urgent court order earlier this month.

For more than a year, labour unrest by among others Nehawu shift workers disrupted the activities of this school for learners with serious intellectual disabilities. Shift workers have been refusing to work night and weekend shifts at the school hostels. The school was closed for the entire second quarter of this year.

“We are grateful that justice prevailed and that this matter was resolved. Now the focus can move to the education needs of these vulnerable learners,” says Ms Juané van der Merwe, Deputy CEO of FEDSAS, and Mr Chris Klopper, CEO of the SAOU, in a joint media release. Today the court also ordered that the MEC for Education and the Head of the Education Department carry the cost of the court proceedings. The MEC and HOD did not attend today’s court proceedings and the Mpumalanga Education Department did not provide the court with reasons as to why the temporary order should not be made permanent. In reaction to this, the SAOU also brought a contempt application against the MEC and HOD. “The court ruled that both were in contempt of the temporary court order. They must ensure that the original order is executed within ten days,” says Klopper.

The Mpumalanga Education Department must provide alternative services immediately so that hostel learners can receive the necessary care during night and weekend shifts. The provincial department must also investigate any possible misconduct by the shift workers and, where necessary, take disciplinary steps. “Although we are satisfied with the cost order against the Department, it is regrettable that taxpayers will shoulder the burden. This is money that could have been spent on direct education and care of the learners,” says Van der Merwe and Klopper.

FEDSAS and the SAOU both voiced concern over the total lack of leadership by the Mpumalanga Education Department. “From the start the provincial department did very little to resolve this matter. And the MEC and HOD’s absence in court today confirmed their lack of respect for vulnerable learners as well as the justice system. Such lack of leadership and the contempt with which they interact with formal systems, filter through to officials at ground level. This is something schools deal with daily. Resources such as time and money is used to address mismanagement and poor leadership instead of ensuring quality education.”

Both FEDSAS and the SAOU will continue to use their influence and resources to ensure that these violations of children’s constitutional right to education are dealt with.

(Photo South Africa's Department of Justice and Constitutional Development)

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