Minister of Higher Education and Training Dr. Blade Nzimande, address to SACCAWU 6th National Bargaining Conference
19 Jul 2012The progressive trade union movement must take responsibility for the skills revolution
Deputy General Secretary of SACCAWU
I would like sincerely to thank South African Commercial Catering and Allied Workers Union (SACCAWU) for giving me the opportunity to come and address this gathering. I particularly appreciate the fact that Saccawu is factoring the critical question of skills development into your bargaining conference, something I had called for before.
One context within which we can locate the challenge of skills development is that of the strategy and tactics and resolutions of the ANC Policy Conference. In particular the strategic commitment to a second phase of our transition from colonialism of a special type to a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and egalitarian society is of particular significance. This strategic perspective calls for a thorough and systemic transformation of, amongst other things, our economy so that it is able to serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of our people, the workers and the poor.
One of the key features of colonialism of a special type was the national oppression of the black working class, and black people in general, so that it remains cheap, highly exploitable labour. A key economic strategy in the creation and reproduction of black workers as cheap labour was the denial of black children access to science, mathematics and technological education, thus creating an army of unskilled and semi-skilled black labour.
A necessary condition and component of whatever other radical economic measures required for the second phase of our transition is that of a creation of a new regime of education, training and skills development, with the working class and progressive trade union movement at the centre of such a strategy. A skills revolution must be at the centre of a thorough, radical and systemic transformation of our economy.
A post-school education and training system
Our department is advancing what we believe to be a thoroughly revolutionary concept of 'post-school' education and training. We believe that this concept is revolutionary in that it is best placed to conceptualists and practicalise an education and training system best capable of confronting and overcoming the education and training regime of the CST skills development trajectory.
The concept of 'post school education and training' (PSET) seeks to create further education and training (FET) opportunities for all those South Africans employed or unemployed as well as all those who have left school an unlikely to return and those who never went to school at all. Post school therefore does not equal post matric as our challenge embraces both those who have done and not done matric.
For PSET to be effective it must have a number of key features that must be put in place. Firstly, it must be an intergrated system where there is a strong relationship between formal (theoretical) education and practical knowledge and experience. Secondly, it must be highly articulated, that is, programmes and courses offered in one part of the system must be recognised in another part of the system for purposes of accreditation and accumulation of credits towards qualifications.
Thirdly, this integrated PSET must have as its key component the recognition of prior knowledge/learning, so that knowledge acquired through experience is properly recognised for purposes of further education and training. The unions have in the past correctly criticised our education and training system for its inability to incorporate RPL. I am pleased to inform you that I have now appointed a task team to investigate and make concrete proposals on how to mainstream RPL as a key component of an integrated and responsive PSET. I am also looking forward to further engagement with yourselves on this matter.
Fourthly, a responsive PSET must have a very strong, large and vibrant college sector that is able to provide the necessary theoretical education and foundations capable of supporting extensive skills development programmes. It must be a college system that is able to provide both vocationally and occupation ally oriented theoretical programmes and qualifications as well as required short courses to support an effective training system. The foundation of such a college system must be public colleges.
For example there are a number of specialist programmes and qualifications that are to be found only in private colleges, yet they are so fundamental in skills revolution in our country. We need to expand the public college sector significantly over the next 20 years, so that it is 3 times bigger than the university sector, and also to ensure that we significantly expand the number of programmes offered by the public college sector, with the FET colleges at the centre of this.
Government's commitment to the expansion of the FET college sector is shown by, amongst others, the trebling of NSFAS for poor students at FET colleges leading to these students being completely exempted for paying tuition fees if following NCV and Nated programmes.
In additional we are exploring a new institutional or college type, over and above the FET colleges, a community college type built through the transformation of existing Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) centers. Such new colleges can focus on improvement of formal education for individuals with low levels of education, as well as short training courses required by communities and their members (eg. Fencing, baking, etc). These we are provisionally calling the Community Education and Training Centres (CETCs).
Fifthly, an effective, responsive and highly integrated PSET must also have a strong distance education and/or 'after-hours' programmes, specifically to cater for working adults who wish to improve their education. This is absolutely oimportant for the working class, especially the blac working class which was deprived of mAny opportunities to improve their education. But such a system is important for the future so that working people have ample opportunities to further their education and training.
Sixthly, another integral component of the type of PSET we want to build is that of creating new types of learning spaces through multi-purpose education and training Centres. This means usage of our educational institutions for multiple offerings in one institution eg college, university and ABET programmes all in one insttitution.
Though government is committed to massive expansion of the college sector, university participation still requires to be increased from the current 16% to about 25%. Already final year university students who qualify for NSFAS now receive an equivalent of a full study loan and if they pass it gets converted into a full bursary.
Cde President, you may ask why would I cover these issues about our colleges and universities in a trade union meeting. Why should workers be interested in these matters. The reason for this is that workplace training cannot be separated from access to theoretical education. For example one practical connection in this regard is the existence of thousands of artisan aides, who perform artisan work but are not paid as artisans because they have not upgraded their theory so that they can get certificated as full artisans.
It is also essential that workers take an active interest in colleges and universities as their participation in governance structures of these institutions is vital for their functionality. Also it is the children of the working class who populate and need these institutions. Let the working class and the progressive trade union movement also influence policies in this regard, including what is taught in these institutions.
In addition, college education is very critical in the production of the very artisans that our country so desperately needs. Artisan development, and especially the training of more black youth as artisans, is an absolute priority for our country, thus the necessity for quality public college education.
A the heart of our PSET must be the necessity for co-operation amongst all the institutions making up the system (SETAs, univesities, colleges, employers, communities, the labour movement, etc).
The DHET's approach to all our work, especially PSET, is driven by seven key transformation imperatives - the necessity to address race, class, gender contradictions as well as to address the urban/rural divide, the HIV/AIDS pandemic and addressing the needs of youth and the disabled. The progressive trade union movement is an important partner to us in addressing all these challenges. In particular we need to define the content of each of these imperatives in the overall struggle for economic transformation of our economy.
Workplace Education and Training
In June last year, labour, government, business and community representatives signed an important National Skills Accord, committing employers to open up workplaces for pavement of youth in apprenticeships, learner ships and internships, without replacing permanent workers. In addition the workplaces were to be opened to expose FET College lecturers to latest technology in industry. This is important in order to improve the quality of education in our colleges and universities of technology. This is where the progressive trade union movement has an important role to play to ensure that these commitments are honoured.
I am also concerned about the negative impact that outsourcing, casualisation and labour brokering is having on workplace training of workers. It is often the case that casual workers and especially those hired by labour brokers are not trained. Labour brokers just does the minimum of training, if at all, since they may not need these workers at all times, or for a long time. Employers supplied with workers by labour brokers take no responsibility for training such workers as they do not belong to them. Nobody takes responsibility to train 'labour-brokered' workers. In short labour brokers and casualisation are bad for training, human resources development and skills development. This a matter that should be taken up by Saccawu given the extent of casualisation and labour brokerage in your sector.
Our department has adopted the slogan "Every workplace a training space" as part of ensuring workplace training for both employed workers and trainees. We call upon Saccawu to support us in this campaign as we believe it is in the deepest interests of the working class. A highly trained and skilled working class cannot be easily dispensed with, thus increasing its own power in the workplace.
An important area where the progressive trade union movement has a vital role to play is that of ensuring that SETAs play the role they are supposed to play. SETAs are multi billion rand institution that should be playing a critical role in skills development. Unfortunately the trade union movement is not vigilant enough on this front. I call upon the progressive trade union movement also to ensure that employers do not rip off SETA funds. SETA funds are public funds not the private war chest for employers. Unless the trade union movement becomes more vigilant on this front, the skills revolution won't happen, which is an essential component in transforming the semi-colonial character of our economy.
Worker initiated education
Education and training activities initiated by workers and trade unions themselves are very vital in strengthening rpthe role of the trade union movement both inside and outside the workplace. Worker initiated education and training including political education is very central in building the capacity of the trade union movement in the whole area of skills development. It is for this reason that worker initiated education is a key pillar of our National Skills Development Strategy III.
In conclusion a critical question you have to begin to answer at this conference and beyond is whether SACCAWU has developed a comprehensive skills strategy for the sectors in which it organises? Such a strategy needs to be developed for each union, for each economic sector and for national engagements. It should guide unions’ negotiating strategies at all levels. Government education and skills policy should be strongly influenced by well informed unions that engage on an ongoing basis with skills issues at the workplace, in the SETAs and in their interaction with employers at all levels. Employers should be under constant pressure to assist with building the skills of workers because raising the educational and skills levels of workers is key to fundamentally transforming the workplace.
My Ministry is always willing to engage with unions on education and training issues so that together we can tackle the skills needs of our people and, especially, of our working class.
What I said earlier has demonstrated that skills development can be a revolutionary strategy. It can help to reverse the skewed skills profile of the South African workforce that was forced on us by successive colonial and apartheid regimes. It is also the key to strengthening the bargaining power of workers.
A more just and equitable world will only ever be a dream – or at most a temporary victory – if the working class does not possess the skills essential to running a modern, but progressive, national economy.
Forward to the skills revolution! Let the working class take responsibility for the skills revolution!
Issued by: Department of Higher Education and Training
19 Jul 2012
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