By Patrick Chitumba
Teachers have called on the Government to consider vaccinating them against Covid-19 ahead of the phased reopening later this month.
The teachers are also pleading with their employer to stick to the November 2020 conditions of service agreement by paying them the minimum US$550 at the interbank rate starting this month and also make sure that all the schools have adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitisers to mitigate against the spread of the virus in the school environment.
Government wants to ensure a safe re-opening of schools in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and recently completed a monitoring exercise on the preparedness of schools to conduct classes without risking a spike in infections.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said it was encouraged by the innovations of some schools to use other spaces like halls and common rooms for classes in compliance with social distancing regulations.
Under the guidelines, classes need to be split or rearranged to have smaller numbers to allow more space between pupils.
Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Professor Paul Mavima, said teachers should not worry as the National Joint Negotiation Council (NJNC) engagement was in progress.
“The engagement is in process. NJNC will meet soon to discuss those issues. We are pushing Treasury for speed on that issue. The other specific issues such as vaccination are addressed through the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education,” he said.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) president Mr Richard Gundani said the opening of schools now has definite timelines as pronounced by the Government through a consultative process involving teachers’ unions.
He said the opening of schools was inevitable.
“Schools had to open at some point because across the Sadc region, schools are open, pupils are going to school.
What is important is that sufficient safety nets have to be put in place in schools to ensure and guarantee that the Standard Operating Procedure and all the requirements needed are put in place,” said Mr Gundani.
He said teachers needed to be vaccinated as well as ancillary staff in schools for a safer learning environment.
“The welcome development is that the country is well ahead of the pack when we look at Africa in terms of response in the wake of Covid-19 vaccination. What is needed is that everybody including teachers and ancillary staff is vaccinated and this is critical and important. There are so many fears, fears of the unknown and the Government should create confidence so that we are vaccinated so that we are protected against Covid-19 before we open the schools,” said Mr Gundani.
He said teachers needed to be paid well so that they are fully committed to their work.
“What is good is that we have the November 2020 agreement which agreed that the salaries and allowances for all teachers are going to be reviewed reverting to the 2018 level when the salaries were around US$550 and this is the minimum requirement needed for the education system to be functional,” said Mr Gundani.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe spokesperson Mr Nation Mudzitirwa said the opening of schools is fundamental but challenges faced by teachers should also be addressed.
He said the issue of salaries is important as well as vaccination of teachers and provision of PPE to ensure a safe learning environment.
“Teachers are incapacitated and they’re demanding the 2018 salary structure. The employer was supposed to engage teachers through all teachers’ unions and agree on solutions to a number of issues affecting teachers before announcing the school opening date. Vaccination of teachers and pupils and provision of PPE is essential before schools open,” said Mr Mudzitirwa.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary for research Mr Josiphat Gwezhira said they wanted teachers’ conditions of service to be addressed as well as Covid-19 vaccination.
“We are not ready because as we speak, some of the schools don’t have PPE and teachers haven’t been vaccinated.
Those things have to be seen on the ground and two weeks is not enough. We should have been given time to prepare to open,” he said.
Mr Gwezhira said teachers are broke after receiving about RTGS$17 000 two weeks ago.
“That money is not enough for them to go to work. We have parents who are teachers and will not be able to send their children to school. Our appeal to our employer is to ensure that modalities are put in place. Government must also talk to teachers directly when there are any developments and not through third parties,” he said.
Last year on November 16, the Government tasked the NJNC to come up with a roadmap leading to a salary structure for civil servants that will be equivalent to an average of US$550 that was being paid when civil servants were being paid in foreign currency. The Chronicle