ANC health and education commission member Angie Motshekga
"The commission resolved that... the process should continue to find a consensus around this matter of declaring education an essential service," ANC health and education commission member Angie Motshekga, who is also the basic education minister, told reporters in Midrand, Johannesburg.
Chairman of the commission Zweli Mkhize said the problems of essential services applied to both health and education.
"Essential services is about critical service in the country that should be always reliable, available and can be assured at all times... the two sectors do fit this," he said.
All parties at the ANC's four-day policy conference, including labour, agreed that the provision of education and health services should not be interrupted by strikes.
However, Mkhize said classifying health work and teaching as essential services would not necessarily remove the problems which led to crippling strikes.
It would be better to prevent disputes from ever getting to the bargaining stage. To this end, the commission had recommended setting up an independent body to review salaries in the health and education sectors.
"It means that body would be the one that everybody would defer to in relation to their remunerative packages... that means it never arises that you've got to go and bargain," Mkhize said.
Motshekga said labour argued that its right to strike was protected by the Constitution.
Labour wanted other issues such as teachers' salaries and conditions addressed. She said the commission would compare the salaries and working conditions of teachers and health care workers with their international counterparts.
"If the report-back shows that there is indeed something we can do to improve the conditions of service for teachers, then [we should] agree with them to have a multi-year agreement, so that every year we are not under a threat of strike."
The SA Democratic Teachers' Union (Sadtu) could not be blamed for all shortfalls in the education system.
"It would be unfair to blame everything on Sadtu.
"Where teachers [are] confronted with classes of 80 [pupils], you can't blame Sadtu, the state has to take responsibility."
Motshekga said Sadtu could also not be blamed for poor infrastructure in the education system or a lack of books or equipment.
"Some of the things have not crumbled because of Sadtu. They have crumbled because of challenges within the state system itself."