Govt, teachers square off

Source: Govt, teachers square off | Newsday (News)

BY VANESSA GONYE

ZIMBABWE’S underpaid teachers have dug in and refused to report for duty today as schools open for non-examination classes, saying they will only do so after their employer, government, has acceded to their demand for their salaries to be restored to the pre-October 2018 levels.

Then, teachers were earning between US$520 and US$550, but are now earning the equivalent of slightly above US$100.

Government, which has threatened to dock salaries for workers who absent themselves without official leave, has said it has no capacity to pay US dollar-indexed salaries demanded by its restive workers.

Teachers yesterday rejected the 75% salary increment offered to all civil servants, saying the adjustment was not a product of collective bargaining.

Cabinet last week approved a 75% pay increment offer for civil servants, which will be paid in a staggered format, with 25% being effected this month, followed by the remainder, 50%, to be paid in June.

The standoff between government and teachers will negatively impact learners, who last had face-to-face lessons in September last year before going on a long COVID-19-induced break.

Teachers unions said their members would not report for duty because they are financially incapacitated to travel to their various stations and pay their children’s school fees.

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) last week gave notice of a nationwide strike starting today despite pronouncements by the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) that it would meet this week to review civil servants’ working conditions.

Last week’s NJNC negotiations ended in a stalemate after the President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led administration dangled a 25% salary increase, which civil servants dismissed as a pittance.

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou said teachers under his union would not report for work despite the 75% increment announcement.

“It’s madness of the worst order. The same government gave police, soldiers, and Central Intelligence Organisation officers more than 100% salary increases with effect from February 2021. Now they want to give the rest of the civil service 25% with effect from April, and the other 50% from June,” he said.

“This double standard is unacceptable. Worse still, it is not a product of social dialogue, but unilateralism. What teachers want is restoration of the purchasing power parity of US$520 to US$550 or its equivalent.

“The incapacitation modus operandi will continue unabated until government takes teachers seriously.”

Zimbabwe National Teachers Union chief executive officer Manuel Nyawo described the 75% proposed increment as a mockery to the teaching profession given that the increment would be staggered, adding that by June, it would have been eroded by inflation.

“We are so much frustrated and disappointed by the proposed 75% increment which remains a drop in the ocean. The increment margin that is being offered ranges from $3 500 to
$4 500. How is the little amount going to solve our incapacitation?” Nyawo asked.

“There is no reason for us not to demonstrate. We are incapacitated, hence we will join any other union that wants to demonstrate for our own good.”

Artuz president Obert Masaraure said the salary increment had not yet been officially agreed with civil servants as it was announced through the media, which was the root of the crisis in the civil service.

He said protocols pertaining to agreement and announcement of salary increments by government were not duly followed, which further complicated the problem.

“It was never a collective bargaining engagement between the government and its employees. Government still has powers to fix salaries of civil servants without going through a genuine process of collective bargaining. All the salaries we are earning were never a product of a genuine collective bargaining process and we don’t have a signed collective bargaining agreement,” Masaraure said.

“We reject the 75% increment, both the process and the amount. The amount itself is pathetic and unacceptable. What we need is a genuine reform of the laws governing the civil service. Labour laws governing the civil service should be aligned to the Constitution so that we also have collective bargaining agreements which can govern us.”

Zimbabwe Teachers Association chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said: “We have only seen the announcement in the Press. No communication has been made, but what we are looking forward to is a favourable outcome of negotiations whose results we have not received.

“We are looking forward to the second meeting and an improvement from the last offer and with a clear roadmap towards restoration of salary levels matching the pre-October 2018 US$550. Anything diverting from the roadmap will be unsatisfactory and unacceptable. Dialogue should demonstrate serious attention to this demand as promised in the NJNC agreement of November 2020.”

Moses Mhike, the Public Service Commission representative in the NJNC, said he was not aware of the proposed 75% increment.

“I was out of town and where I was, there was no access to the media. I haven’t come across such information, I am just getting into Harare now,” he said.

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