UNIONIST and Port Elizabeth school principal Thobile Ntola is due back at work next month, almost a year after submitting sick notes claiming he was depressed about unemployment, poverty and inequality in South Africa.
Ntola has been on sick leave since January.
However, he had also not been to work for six months before he was booked off sick, because the Eastern Cape Department of Education had failed to instruct him to report for duty after his expulsion as president of teacher union Sadtu.
While on sick leave, Ntola registered his own union, the South African Liberated Public Sector Workers’ Union, to rival ANC-aligned public sector unions like Sadtu and Nehawu.
Ntola’s sick leave ends next month and he is expected at Chubekile Senior Secondary School in Kwazakhele on December 14, a day before teachers break for the summer holidays, according to the department.
Ntola confirmed that he was booked off sick until Saturday December 12.
“When they say the last day of the sick leave is on such and such a date, you go back to the doctor for further assessment,” he said.
“Yes, my leave ends on December 12 but I am going back to the doctor for further assessment on December 9, then the doctor will tell me whether I am ready to go back to work or not. “I am sick. I am depressed by the money being wasted by the government.
“I am depressed by poverty, unemployment and inequality. Those are the things that depress me,” Ntola said.
His school’s matric pass rate has steadily declined – from 80% in 2010 to 52% last year.
A visit to the school in July revealed that the small amount of furniture it had was barely usable. Most of the windows and doors were broken or damaged.
Provincial education spokesman Malibongwe Mtima said the department’s hands were tied as Ntola had submitted sick notes.
“His sick leave was from October 12 to December 12, so he is expected to be back at work on Monday the 14th,” Mtima said.
“We have documentation that says he is sick and, because it’s normal sick leave, we cannot do anything.
“We are following human resources processes to ensure everything is intact. “We cannot act beyond the law,” he said. Asked if the department could not take him to its own doctors, Mtima said: “When he submits for incapacity leave, the department can take him to provincial government doctors.”
Healy and Associates labour law analyst Tony Healy said he was shocked that Ntola had been allowed to get away with submitting sick notes for so long.
“They [the education department] can seek to verify his medical certificate or get a second opinion on whether he really is sick,” Healy said.
“They can also monitor his movements and see whether he [conducts] himself in [the] manner he [did] before submitting the sick notes – like being involved in trade union activities.
“If he is involved in trade union activities, he cannot . . . claim he cannot carry on with his duties as union activity is by nature demanding,” he said.
“Union work is probably more stressful than the environment [school] he would be rendering his services in.”
Healy said that Ntola had got away with submitting the sick notes because the public sector was not as strict in this regard as the private sector.
“I can assure you that in the private sector if you have an employee who purports to be sick but carries himself in a different way, the private sector would not hesitate to act,” he said.
Ntola said he did not understand why he was being singled out while many other teachers had been on sick leave longer than he had.