Ground breaking collective agreements on how to deal with sexual offenders were reached between the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and teacher unions in the Basic Education Sector. The agreements were presented to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on 17 October 2018 in Parliament, Cape Town. The Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC) informed the Committee that the collective agreements would assist in creating safe environments for learners and enhance stability in schools. The most important agreement is with regards to sexual offenses committed by teachers against learners.
Previously, three platforms were available to learners who were victims of sexual misconduct or witnesses to offences: the Provincial Education Departments’ (PEDs’) internal disciplinary hearing processes; the South African Council for Educators (SACE) investigative process; and the ELRC arbitration process, in the event that the teacher refers a dispute to the Council. The learner was required to testify in all three processes and had to relive the trauma.
Collective Agreement No. 3 of 2018 provides a one-stop arbitration process that replaces the Department’s internal disciplinary hearing and prevents the learner from having to testify multiple times and going through secondary trauma. There will also be a special panel of suitably qualified and experienced arbitrators to deal with matters related to sexual misconduct between learners and teachers. Intermediaries have been appointed to aid the child victim or witness to give evidence at a special venue such as the Children’s Court where two-way mirrors will be used. Judgement of arbitration shall be final and binding and has the same status as an arbitration award under the Labour Relations Act.
A partnership has also been initiated with the Registrar of the National Sexual Offenders Register, and a Memorandum of Understanding has been put in place with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development for the use of the Children’s Court for special cases, and the recruitment of intermediaries. The ELRC and SACE have established a partnership to synchronise the processes of the two entities in relation to special cases where children are involved and both have agreed to collaborate on an awareness and advocacy campaign. The ELRC has also partnered with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to ensure that the names of people involved in sexual offenses with children are registered.
The Sector needs to align appointment processes to include a SAPS clearance certificate and also collaborate with School Governing Bodies for public and private schools where teachers are appointed. The DBE is confident that these improved measures will ensure that sexual predators do not teach learners in our schools