By Mugove Tafirenyika and Caroline Chiimba
Schools in Zimbabwe may remain closed on opening day next month as teachers strike to press for higher pay.
This comes as President Emmerson Mnangagwa has invited teachers to a meeting on Friday to open the wage talks.
In a letter dated December 10, to Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe, Mnangagwa’s permanent secretary William Gwatiringa said his principal had agreed to meet him and his executive on Friday.
“Thank you for your letter of December 5, 2018 requesting PTUZ to meet … the president. Kindly be advised that the president has accepted to meet the union at State House on Friday December 21, 2018 at 10am.” Gwatiringa wrote.
But leaders of two teacher groups spearheading the walkout were sceptical.
The teachers’ unions called for the strike after negotiations did not resolve major disagreement over salaries.
Some of the challenges that the teachers want addressed include their salaries which they want paid in US dollars, their allowances, nonmonetary incentives, pensions, issues to do with student teachers, those with disability and harmonisation of the country’s labour laws among several others.
The militant union had also warned Mnangagwa if the challenges are not addressed as a matter of urgency, his government would have to contend with a wave of demonstrations beginning January next year.
“The above and other challenges are creating waves of discontent and disillusionment that is likely to lead to a series of industrial actions come January 2019. Our engagement with your good office will obviously help quell such,” Majongwe wrote on December 5.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) secretary-general Tapson Sibanda and PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou confirmed the plan for industrial action next term .
“Zimta would like to categorically state that it is busy consulting its members and a mother of all strikes in the civil service is looming come opening of schools in 2019 if teachers’ concerns are not addressed,” Sibanda said.
This comes after the association had called upon government in mid-October to consider paying teachers in US$ as the cost of living had skyrocketed massively, only for their request to be shot down by the Primary and Secondary Education ministry which said government cannot afford to pay teachers in foreign currency as its main focus at the moment is channelled at improving schools’ infrastructure.
This comes as Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) has been embarking on a march in protest over salaries that have been eroded by the continued rise in the cost of living. The teachers were arrested and briefly appeared in court yesterday.
Zimta has since condemned the arrest of the Artuz leadership saying “an injury to one is an injury to all.” He said government needs to dialogue with teachers instead of arresting them.
“It is only the petite bourgeoisie who would feel threatened by this mere expression by genuine citizens,” Sibanda said.
Zhou said due to price hikes and the valueless teachers’ salary, the educators were now condemned to poverty.
“It is sad to note that teachers, whose basic salary is $280, cannot dream of sending their children to a boarding school. When a teacher’s salary cannot buy a uniform for one child, it speaks volumes of the educational vandalism by those in leadership,” Zhou said.
“Why then should teachers teach other people’s children when their own children are receiving the worst education by virtue of government-engineered poverty.
“It is within this vein that we call for an urgent improvement of teachers’ salaries and conditions of service, let alone payment in foreign currency. This is a cause towards the status restoration of teachers that has fallen from grace to grass.”
Zhou said the decision to open or not to open schools next term will be determined by whether the Finance minister addresses the teachers’ grievances.
He said a meeting will also be held to determine if the industrial strike will start a week after schools open or before schools open.
“For now I can say there is a plan for industrial action but the final decision will be made next year towards schools’ opening, depending on the action by the government,” Zhou added. Daily News