HARARE – Teachers’ unions on Friday said they were “unmoved” by fresh threats by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who warned that his government could exclude from the payroll thousands of teachers who are boycotting work in a pay dispute.
Mnangagwa, speaking in Mutare on Wednesday evening, admitted that only 30 percent of Zimbabwe’s 120,000 teachers were at work. Unions say less than 10 percent of teachers are taking classes.
“Let me assure all of you that the government will never be held to ransom by the teachers. By failing to report for duty, they think they will push us to do what they want. No, we’re very principled on that,” Mnangagwa said.
“We will apply the principle that those who work will get paid. Those who are at home are not considered to be at work.”
Teachers are demanding salaries equivalent to US$520. They have rejected a 40 percent salary increase announced last week as derisory. The pay offer saw teachers’ salaries go up from Z$3,500 to about Z$5,000 (US$61).
“Threatening to fire a teacher or to cease their salary in Zimbabwe is like threatening to kill a corpse. These threats and accusations will not resolve the ensuing labour dispute. We are not moved,” the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe said.
“We don’t have intentions to go to war with the incumbent government. We demand a living wage. We will defend our labour rights through constitutional means. We won’t be silenced by the ruling elites who are living in luxury when workers are starving.”
Raymond Majongwe, the secretary general of the Progressive Teachers’ Union said: “Teachers deserve respect. Threatening them with dismissal is just criminal aggression on the poor workers.”
Schools re-opened on September 28 for exam-sitting classes. Other classes will re-open on October 26 and November 9 in a stepped return to normalcy after schools were closed in March following an outbreak of the coronavirus.
The strike by teachers threatens to derail the impending examinations as unions warn that pupils are unprepared for the exams.
Having already lost six months without attending classes, many students could sit their final examinations with just two months’ learning between January and February under the belts.
Students lucky enough to have parents who could afford internet access took online lessons. Some teachers conducted small face-to-face lessons in the backyards of their homes.
Children in Zimbabwe’s rural areas were the worst affected because many have no access to electricity, internet or backyard classes.