By Blessings Mashaya
Teachers in public schools are determined to down tools next week, setting themselves on a collision course with government which described the planned job action as illegal.
Unions told the Daily News yesterday that their grievances were genuine and that no amount of threats from their employer would discourage them from exercising their constitutional rights.
The unions are pushing for improved conditions of service for teachers, a pay rise and the provision of adequate as well as quality tools of trade and have notified government of their intention to strike once schools open for the second term on Tuesday.
But government has condemned union leaders for not giving it time to negotiate.
In a statement, the minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Monitoring Implementation of Government Programmes, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, said government was therefore calling upon all teachers not to participate “in this unlawful and highly premature strike action called for by some of the union leaders who may not have the same agenda of improving conditions of service for the teachers”.
“Government would like to assure all teachers that it is its objective to improve the working conditions of teachers who play a crucial role in the making of future leaders. Furthermore, government wishes to assure all members of the civil service of this same commitment. Government is committed to negotiate with the Apex Council in good faith,” said Mumbengegwi.
He said the Apex Council, which represents all civil servants, met with government as a Joint Negotiating Council on April 20, 2018 to consider the detailed position paper presented by the negotiators as part of the negotiating process.
Under Statutory Instrument 141 of 1997, the National Joint Negotiating Council is required to meet and negotiate for at least three sessions before declaring a deadlock.
The minister said they were yet to reach a stage where they could declare a deadlock.
The next meeting had been scheduled for Wednesday this week.
“Therefore any strike action would not only be unlawful but also highly premature. We must give negotiations a chance. The five education unions should show respect for the negotiation process rather than undermining it by being confrontational. If these five leaders who are threatening to go on strike are truly representing the workers then they must abandon the confrontational approach and instead follow dialogue as prescribed by law,” said Mumbengegwi.
But unions have reacted angrily to the minister’s statement saying Mumbengegwi was offside as teachers have the right to present their demands to their employer and embark on collective job action.
The Progressive Teachers’ Union (PTUZ) told the Daily News yesterday that Mumbengegwi had remained stuck in the past, saying his approach to the dispute was no different from what teachers experienced during former president Robert Mugabe’s reign.
“Mumbengegwi is trying to continue with the Mugabe way; we thought these people are different from Mugabe but we are now seeing that they are same. Maybe Mumbengegwi was just recovering from his defeat, his thinking was not straight. We have the Constitution which gave us the right to do so. He needs to sober up,” said PTUZ secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe.
“These unions are not made up of five people – they are made up of more than 65 000 people yet Mumbengegwi is trying to engage (the) Apex (Council) which has less than 5 000 people,” he added.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) yesterday said there was no going back on the strike action if government does not address their concerns.
Zimta secretary-general Tapson Sibanda said they have given government until Sunday to reply to their demands and will proceed with the industrial action if nothing positive emerges.
“If they fail to address our concerns up to May 8 we will definitely go on strike. The strike was never made legal in this country, no one in this country will say striking is legal but it is a way of showing our concerns as workers,” Sibanda said.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) weighed in, saying Mumbengegwi’s threats will not dissuade them from fighting for their rights.
Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere said the statutes being cited by government were null and void as they contradict provisions of Section 65 of the Constitution.
Among other provisions, the section outlines the right to collective industrial action as well as collective bargaining.
“What this means is that Fozeu (Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Union) exercised its right to form a federation in order to undertake collective job action.
“The government arguments of defining how teachers as a sector should engage on their issues are as illegal as it is cheap politicking.
“The strategy behind this madness is to threaten union leaders and teachers in general,” said Chere.
“In light of this, Artuz calls on all teachers to remain vigilant and not be cowed down by the cowardly and desperate attempts to scuttle a legitimate job action. We will soon be sharing a clear logistics plan for implementing the strike.”
Fozeu was formed after an education sector meeting held at Zimta offices on March 10. DailyNews