This was confirmed by BTU president Gotlamang Oitsile in an interview with The Monitor in Palapye over the weekend, where the union held its conferences for the Tertiary, Secondary, as well as Gender and Human Rights Sectors.
On June 18 this year, BTU in collaboration with BOSETU wrote to the Ministry of Basic Education (MoBE), Ministry of Tertiary Education, Research, Science and Technology as well as the Ministry of Employment Labour, Productivity and Skills Development, demanding that several challenges faced by teachers that are linked to COVID-19 should be dealt with urgently. The aforementioned ministries are considered key stakeholders in education.
The demand letter from the unions was prompted by the swelling COVID-19 deaths and infections amongst teachers. The number of teachers who have succumbed to COVID-19 in public schools is said to be over 50.
Amongst others, trade unions in their demand letter wanted the government through three ministries to give teachers protective clothing. Most notably, the two unions wanted the government to commit to a timeline in which teachers would be vaccinated for COVID-19.
Furthermore, they wanted schools to close during winter as a way of curbing the rising COVID-19 infections. BOSETU and BTU gave the three ministries seven days to respond by detailing how they will address the challenges faced by teachers in the wake of the pandemic.
They threatened to go to court if they received no firm commitment from the ministries, to promptly address the said challenges. According to Oitsile, only MoBE has replied, but the BTU president labelled the response shallow.
“We are now going ahead with our court application (as a matter of urgency) against the three government ministries. We want the court to compel them to urgently address our demands. The reply from MoBE was not pleasing,” said Oitsile.
“The ministry just said that teachers remain a priority for vaccination, without committing to any (vaccination) timeline. The intention is to have approached court by Wednesday this week provided there is a convincing pronouncement from the ministries (in relation to addressing our demands).”
Oitsile stated that lawyers representing the two unions have started working on papers that will form part of the court application.
“We need to put the government under pressure to commit to a specific date with reference to vaccinating teachers,” he added. The BTU president also responded to media reports that the government intends to roll out the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine to teachers. Last week the assistant minister of health, Sethomo Lelatisitswe was quoted in the media saying that teachers will start receiving the J&J vaccine this month.
“The government has not communicated with unions about intentions to roll out the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to teachers this month. It is something that we only came across in mainstream media.”
“I made a follow up with one of the senior officials from MoBE on Saturday, (following media reports on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine) with reference to the vaccination of teachers. He maintained that teachers remain a priority for vaccination. There was no commitment on his part in relation to the timeline for vaccination of the teaching fraternity. He could also not commit on the type of vaccine that is intended for them,” he added.
The BTU leader emphasised that it is important for the government to communicate anything related to the vaccination of teachers or anything concerning their welfare, with their unions before going to the media. He explained that this will prevent confusion amongst them.