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Western Cape education forced cost-cutting measures hang contract teachers out to dry while angering union

Western Cape education forced cost-cutting measures hang contract teachers out to dry while angering union
Teachers' union Sadtu has launched a campaign against the cost-cutting measures, warning of staffing disaster in poor schools and widening educational inequalities. (Photo: Leila Dougan)

The Western Cape Education Department is facing a R870-million deficit in the 2024/25 financial year that needs to be absorbed to cover the cost of the increases in the nationally negotiated public sector wage agreement. It’s implementing cost containment measures, which has angered teachers and teachers’ union Sadtu.

Teachers in some Western Cape public schools together with the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu) have sounded the alarm about the implementation of cost containment measures by the Western Cape Department of Education (WCED).

In a circular issued on 21 November 2023, the WCED indicated that they needed to implement various cost-containment measures to maintain the number of permanent teaching posts in the system and stability in schools. These include not hiring substitute teachers for various reasons, including teachers on sick leave, although they’ll still be hired to cover maternity leave applications.

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The circular further stated that any teaching posts not filled via the conversion process, which involved switching contract posts to permanent positions, by 31 March 2024 can only be filled by following a formal recruitment and selection process.

Schools that cannot afford to hire teachers through the school governing body (SGB) budgets, which are separate from government-funded positions, will be hard hit by these measures.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape tries to balance national budget cuts with ‘protecting the vulnerable’

Some teachers hired on contracts received notification this week that the government would not renew their contracts after they were not converted to permanent contracts.

In one school, four teachers were affected by this and the remaining teachers were requested to work on a new timetable and split subjects among themselves.

“It is chaos,” said one teacher who did not want to be named fearing reprisal.

“The workload will double for teachers until the recruitment process is completed and that can take months or even the entire school year.”

Another teacher who also did not want to be named said they are now expected to teach content subjects they are not qualified for, which she described as basically learning on the job.

The teacher described the impact as “adding more admin that includes more marking, more subject files and new planning in the middle of the year. Matric teachers have more than one content subject in matric, which means double moderation”.

The teacher said they had to work Saturday as an extra day for teaching, not as extra classes, to meet the minimum requirements to teach GET subjects. They added that teachers are working extra periods to fill the gaps.

Union to fight

Sadtu said they have now decided to launch a campaign against the implementation of the cost containment measures as the circular spells a staffing disaster for poor, working-class schools.

“Classrooms will be left without teachers where there are educators acting in vacant deputy principal and departmental head positions as WCED will not be employing substitute educators in their place, even though the substitute posts would be within the approved staff establishment of the school,” said Sibongile Kwazi, Sadtu Western Cape secretary.

“Schools will not be able to employ contract teachers to substitute educators who are on sick leave for longer than 15 days. Classrooms will be left without teachers when educators vacate their positions through natural attrition, or promotion as schools must now wait for the vacancy to be advertised and follow the recruitment process.”

Kwazi said that the WCED has a terrible history when it comes to the filling of promotion posts, with posts taking years to be filled.

“Currently, there are posts advertised in 2022 and longer that have not yet been filled. The WCED purports to be pro-poor, but the implementation of the two circulars indicates that the education of the poor learners, who suffered learning losses during the Covid-19 lockdown is not a priority.

“The Department even has the audacity to advise schools to introduce the Temporary Revised Education Programme (Trep), wherein learners will not attend school daily but on certain days of the week. This will further widen the gap between learners attending affluent schools and those from poor working-class backgrounds. WCED is promoting the creation of two economies within the province, one for the poor and one for the rich.”


Member of the Western Cape Legislature and ANC spokesperson on education Muhammad Khalid Sayed said the measures are nothing short of an assault on the educational rights of the most vulnerable communities.

“Let’s call it what it is: an act of educational sabotage. By stripping schools in disadvantaged communities of crucial teaching posts, including those vital for grade 12 students, the DA is perpetuating a cycle of inequality and hindering the future prospects of countless children.”

He added that the repercussions extend beyond the classroom.

“By denying substitute posts, the DA is shutting the door on employment opportunities for many qualified teachers, exacerbating unemployment and widening the economic gap. This is not just a Western Cape issue; it’s a national disgrace. We call on the national government to urgently intervene to protect the rights of all learners.”

WCED responds

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the department was dealt a devastating blow after the national government announced major budget cuts, which forced the department to implement stringent cost containment measures.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Western Cape declares intergovernmental dispute with Treasury over rising public sector wage bill

“We are currently facing an R870-million deficit in the 2024/25 financial year that needs to be absorbed to cover the cost of the increases in the nationally negotiated public sector wage agreement.”

Hammond said in preparation for implementation:

  • “Approximately 3,100 contract posts were converted to permanent posts between 1 January 2024 and 31 March 2024.
  • “Special vacancy lists were made available so that schools could ensure that appointments to fill vacant posts could be made before 1 April 2024.
  • “School Governing Bodies were urged to give recruitment processes their urgent attention, and the department made arrangements to expedite the administration around the filling of posts.”

Hammond said the department was supporting schools that had not implemented the measures and that in some instances unexpected or late resignations by permanent staff members had complicated issues.

“Our top priority now is to ensure that schools are supported, and we are working with schools to mitigate the risk by:

  • “Supporting them to finalise their conversion processes;
  • “More regularly advertising vacancy lists;
  • “Supporting them to speed up recruitment and selection processes, and expediting appointments where schools have finalised these processes; and
  • “Extending the contracts of educators appointed in vacant substantive posts until 31 December 2024.”

“Despite the major budget cuts, we are doing everything we can to support our schools, and will continue to fight to deliver quality education to the learners in the Western Cape.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    One wonders what goes on at SADTU….. there isn’t enough money as teachers, and others got salary increases way over budget.
    Maybe if they forgo say 3% of their increase then the pupils will benefit!

  • Lynda Tyrer says:

    Why go at WC only all provinces got reduced education budgets from Treasury. Outrage should be directed at the anc govt, but its so much easier to go at others. Btw contract is not permanent in the 1st place odd teachers dont understand the word.

    • Stephen Mcbride says:

      WCED only one that terminated contracts (contacted teachers in 2 other provinces).
      Yes contract is not permanent and at end of contract you should expect to leave the position unless informed that it is being renewed.
      BUT WCED sent circular in Sept 2023 stating that school establishment (i.e. the number of teachers that are to be paid by WCED) would remain the same in 2024. However later in the document they state that substitute posts would not be filled and it learner totals drop then establishment would be dropped. Teachers were supposed to be informed in Sept 2023 that they were “in excess” and not be included in 2024 timetable. It seems many schools did not understand the document (extremely badly written in my opinion) and did not follow the process. WCED did not ensure that all was done.

  • Roger Sheppard says:

    SADTU secretary-gen and his admin team are denying the FACT, again.
    THEIR govt, THEIR mob-led ANC, reduced the budget in education! [What a dumbed down statement to have to make!]
    Well, I guess to state the obvious is rather lame, but, perhaps, just perhaps ONE SADTU bloke might just read that statement, dwell on it – only a little is needed – and he might see the light…at last!
    SADTU has been so dangerous for this land, and continues to be. I wait to asked how!

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Yet another symptom. The cause = ANC.

    Vote DA in the next election if you want your children educated.

  • Stephen Mcbride says:

    A circular 34 of 2023 was sent out on 21 November 2023. A legalistic letter that does not give clear instruction (apologies to whoever wrote it). It states in paragraph 3.2 that school will retain their 2023 allocation. This would lead us to understand that if you were allocated 43 teachers in 2023 then you would be allocated 43 teachers in 2024.
    This directly contradicted by paragraph 3.2 where they state no substitute teachers are allowed / post not filled by conversion process cannot be filled and par: 7.1 if number of learner less then less teachers.
    By 30 Nov 23 these teachers to be terminated to be identified AND INFORMED. Not to be placed on timetable for 2024.
    I know of schools where this was not done. WCED did not follow up as to why schools did not give in names. Teachers were informed during the holidays that they were not to be reappointed. No attempt was made to match these teacher to a post as in par:9.2.
    My opinion: The WCED issued an unclear circular and did not manage the process by meeting with Circuit managers to explain what had to be done. They did not meet with SMT’s to explain what they had to do. No-one checked up that the procedure was followed. Teachers were allocated to timetable 2024 when their contract was to be terminated in April. They were not informed (SMT or WCED). Only clue was a verbose document (and explanation in circular 0008/24 sent on 15 March 2024)

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