By Tendai Kamhungira
Government teachers have been left divided after their employer dangled a 17, 5 percent salary increase for all civil servants on Thursday following the discord that has been simmering in the public service.
Over the past two months, government has been negotiating with teachers, who are demanding salaries that are consistent with the poverty datum line, now estimated at $720.
Initially, it had offered a 10 percent increase, which was later changed to 15 percent and subsequently 17, 5 percent, with effect from July 1. This followed the last meeting held by the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) on Thursday.
Following the NJNC’s indaba, the Sifiso Ndlovu-led Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta), said while the offer by government was insufficient, it gives a positive starting point.
“The 17,5 percent rise while being inadequate is a better trade off in that it is specific to civil servants as a non-taxable award and rural allowance will now be calculated as five percent of the total package,” Zimta said in a statement.
“The meeting concluded that the education sector allowance must be followed up with a view of reactivating those that were frozen, while tabling new proposals for newly-environed sector specific”.
The association went further to say that the sector-specific allowances would be pursued in the next meeting when detailed proposals are tabled by educators.
“Our demand for collective bargaining must continue to be the beacon for development of industrial freedoms and our negotiators are active on this,” Zimta said.
In spite of the NJNC’s decision, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union (Artuz) still feels that the offer does not meet their expectations.
Artuz accused Cecilia Alexander, who leads the Apex Council — an umbrella body that represents all civil servants unions in the country — of not being sincere in representing the teachers’ demands during the negotiations.
“If the 17,5 percent covers housing and transport as promised it translates to $17, 50 increase on transport allowance, $19,20 on housing and $44,00 on basic salary for the average teacher. (The) 17,5 percent pay rise is an insult to teachers,” Artuz said, in a statement.
At the NJNC, it was agreed that cash-in-lieu of vacation leave in excess of 123 days maximum accrual for teachers be paid on a staggered basis from July to December this year.
It was also agreed that rentals at institutional accommodation be aligned to appropriate levels of members’ housing allowance and members’ appropriate grade be implemented with effect from July.
Government also undertook to revisit and review the rental framework for accommodation at institutions such as training centres and schools as such accommodation is tied to duties.
“We reject the process and outcome of the negotiations. We will continue staging our Red Friday protests, which will be varied from week to week,” said Artuz, which is also accusing Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa of projecting ordinary workers as overburdening the fiscus, whereas it is the executive luxuries straining government coffers.
The Zimbabwe Rural Teachers Union (ZRTU) seemed appreciative of government’s gesture, saying what has been put on the table was reached after protracted negotiations.
“The position was taken amid an agreement that the negotiations would continue to consider other non-monetary conditions of service and further salary review. Rural hardship allowance which momentarily remained at five percent and sector specific allowances to be further deliberated in the next meetings,” ZRTU said.
The lowest paid government worker is currently earning $253 per month.
As a way of trying to improve working conditions for teachers, government recently rescinded its decision to bar teachers from going on vacation leave, taken in 2016 as a cost-cutting measure.
Government has been under pressure from the civil servants, who are pushing for better wages and improved working conditions.
Doctors recently took part in a crippling strike that lasted for a month, demanding a salary increase and better working conditions. Government relented and gave the doctors the money they were demanding.
But the situation did not end there, as nurses also embarked on their own strike, leading to Vice President Constantino Chiwenga sacking at least 16 000 nurses, who were only taken back after they reapplied. Daily News