By Farai Matiashe
TOP government officials were last night locked up in a crunch meeting with teachers’ union leaders to resolve the salary impasse and end a crippling strike which started on Tuesday, with about 80% of the teachers joining the industrial action.
A majority of teachers across the country have not been reporting for duty since Tuesday, citing incapacitation due to high transport costs and poor salaries.
The striking teachers are demanding their salaries to be paid in United States dollars or a minimum of $1 700 in bond notes
The meeting came as the teachers claimed they were being terrorised by State security agents at a time the Public Service Commission (PSC) has also threatened to deduct their salaries for absenteeism.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe yesterday confirmed government had invited them to resolve the stand-off.
He said the government team comprised Primary and Secondary Education minister Paul Mavima, PSC representatives and officials from the Office of the President.
“Apparently, things have changed with regards to the future of our struggle. We are meeting with the government tonight,” Majongwe said.
“The reason for the meeting is to see how best we can salvage this situation. We have been saying we want to engage the government and the fact that they have (agreed) to meet the education sector, which is on strike, the meeting will liberate ourselves.”
He said they accepted to meet the government because “we are in a crisis”.
“We can’t pretend that things are right. Pupils need to learn yes, but teachers also need to be able to care for their families. We are saying time for dialogue is now,” Majongwe said.
“We are happy that government is inviting us for dialogue. I want to believe that in this engagement, something fruitful and positive will come out. Our emphasis is very simple, we want to concentrate on making sure that our salaries are improved. It’s time for practical solutions.”
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) president Richard Gundane said he was optimistic of a positive outcome after the meeting.
“We are the giants when it comes to the issue of dialogue. We are the people who travel to Geneva every June. We travel all over the world. We know about dialogue,” he said.
Gundane said the Apex Council, which represents the whole civil service, was nothing without members of Zimta and PTUZ, who constituted 80% of government workers.
Some teachers were reportedly absconding from duty, while others were reporting, but not attending to classes.
Zimta chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said it was unfortunate that striking teachers were being intimidated.
“This afternoon (yesterday), we were told that some councillors were now going to schools asking for (teachers’ attendance) registers. There were some political activists wearing different regalia who were also intimidating teachers and reports are that they were being dragged out of classrooms,” Ndlovu said.
“It is difficult to identify which party exactly they are from. In Nyanga, some youths elements were also intimidating teachers. Looking at the situation, it is clear that there is now political intervention.”
In urban areas, police officers have also been deployed at some schools, a move some teachers feel was meant to bully them.
Majongwe said PTUZ and Zimta executives were being barred from addressing their members.
“Many of our teachers are facing serious threats where they are teaching. As unions, we have almost been rendered useless. We cannot even engage with our members. Zimta and PTUZ cars are no longer allowed into schools. We cannot even dialogue with our members,” he said.
Majongwe said war veterans and youths were harassing their members in different parts of the country.
“There are cases of clear violence and intimidation. We know war veterans and some youths just as near as Goromonzi who have gone to schools and threatened that teachers who do not report to work should pack their bags and leave,” he said.
“We also have it on record that teachers are now being asked for their addresses and where they come from.”
Majongwe said their strike was not political, but an industrial action, which was in terms of the Constitution and labour international laws.
“There are many other faces and other players who are interfering with genuinely labour issues,” he said.
“There is nothing political about what we are saying. We do not want to be told or to be taught by anybody that what we are doing is political. It is not political. It is purely about bread and butter issues.”