By Andrew Kunambura
Teachers’ unions have given their employer up to end of day today to hike their salaries and allowances as well as resolving other pending welfare issues or risk a crippling strike action tomorrow, the Daily News can report.
The ultimatum comes after Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima pleaded with teachers to desist from the planned job action, saying government was considering reviewing their salaries.
Earlier, the minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring and Implementation of Government Programmes, Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, had declared any industrial action as “illegal”, calling on the teachers to give dialogue a chance.
But as schools open tomorrow for the second term, teachers have remained adamant, with unions saying unless government tables a credible offer, the strike would go ahead.
Takavafira Zhou, president of the militant Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), told the Daily News yesterday that the purported salary increase by Mavima was unacceptable, as they never sought negotiations through the media.
“Government must learn to engage teachers through appropriate collective bargaining means. So unless government comes up with a clear offer that addresses the legitimate grievances of teachers tomorrow (today), the strike is on,” he said.
“The strike is definitely on. As of now, there is no change on our position. We are not going to allow ourselves to be fooled by empty promises of a salary hike. So unless government works out something at tomorrow (today)’s meeting, teachers will not be reporting for duty,” added Zhou, who is also interim chairman of the Federation of Zimbabwe Educators Union (Fozeu).
Yesterday, PTUZ appealed to its members to “sharpen their instruments of combat”, while restating its demands, which include a salary increase of 100 percent, ensuring that schools are declared politics-free-zones and the re-instatement of vacation leave.
The union said denying teachers this vacation leave was discriminatory, degrading and tantamount to treatment of teachers in a servitude manner.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) weighed in yesterday, urging its members to heed to the strike call.
“We are going ahead with the strike,” Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere told the Daily News.
“We cannot take government seriously when they are giving promises through the press. We have not had any proper negotiations on the matter and we are urging our members to go on strike because government has always been making those promises without fulfilling them,” he said.
Government employs more than 100 000 teachers.
An entry level teacher earns a basic monthly pay of $286 before allowances, according to the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta).
Zimta’s secretary-general Tapson Sibanda also sang from the same hymn sheet, saying the union’s members will press ahead with the strike.
Said Sibanda: “We are maintaining our position that the strike is still on because what came out in the press is rather false. We have no agreement with government yet. We are meeting tomorrow (today) and we don’t know what the outcome of that meeting would be and we can only call off the strike when we a have a written agreement with government”.
It also emerged yesterday that a crisis meeting called by government on Saturday to try and clear the impasse ended prematurely after teachers’ unions walked out in protest.
They protested government’s attempt to negotiate through the Apex Council whose leadership they do not recognise.
Zhou confirmed the development.
“We stormed out of that meeting because we are calling for the establishment of a genuine collective bargaining forum as envisaged under section 65 of the Zimbabwean Constitution as opposed to the moribund, archaic, obsolete and now illegitimate Apex Council that engages in collective begging.
“We have reminded ministers Mumbengegwi and Mavima that intransigence, irresponsible and bullish hairline approach will not solve the labour dilemma that they are in,” he said.
While government has threatened to fire any striking teachers saying their planned industrial action was illegal, Zhou said the unions have followed all required protocols and therefore their strike was within the legal precincts.
“We have diligently followed the laws of the land and the industrial action is legal. If there is any illegality, it surely is coming from the two ill-informed and overzealous ministers who instead of engaging teachers who formerly communicated all these issues to their offices, have decided to sadly abrogate their responsibilities by evading engagement and adopting inappropriate bullish tactics. Needless to point that the current term of office of Apex leaders expired and such leaders usurped the powers of affiliates unions by self-extending their term of office and therefore have no locus standi to represent teachers.
“Therefore, it’s game on starting Tuesday. We will, however, give room for last-minute attempts to make a breakthrough by some concerned citizens. There is hope that in a meeting on May 7 as we will engage government officials to break the impasse. It is our hope that such government officials would come up with clear contingent measures to remedy teachers’ legitimate demands. If no breakthrough is made, a communiqué would be made under the banner of Fozeu to begin a legitimate industrial action forthwith. Our modus operandi would be a stay away. We therefore must continue to mobilise and remain vigilant and resilient every time,” Zhou said.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa has said his priority is to revive the economy by opening up the country to foreign investment and repairing relations with the West, but he faces pressure to deliver quickly from an expectant public sector ahead of the elections.
Only a few weeks ago, his government was forced to review conditions of service for doctors and nurses after they had downed their tools. DailyNews