via Crisis looms at schools – DailyNews Live by Tendai Kamhungira 13 JANUARY 2014
Schools re-open tomorrow but a crisis is looming with teachers giving government up to Wednesday to review their salaries which they say fall way below the poverty datum line.
In an interview with the Daily News yesterday, Progressive Teachers Union (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said government needed to honour its promises to award them decent pay.
He said the issue of civil servants’ salaries has been handled in a disturbing way and temperature was rising within the civil service.
“We must make it very clear that we have been short-changed for very long and so many promises have been made and we hope the meeting of Wednesday will bring something positive,” Majongwe said.
He said in the event the unions go on strike, it must not be misconstrued as if they have a political axe to grind.
Teachers, who constitute a significant percentage of civil servants, now feel that President Robert Mugabe’s call for poverty datum line salaries during the Zanu PF annual conference held last year was nothing more that grand standing.
Last week, civil servants threatened industrial action if their demands were not met but government maintains that any industrial action has to be legally conducted.
This demand by teachers comes at a time when government has frozen all increments on school fees, a development that could cripple operations at schools.
But Majongwe says the freeze would not affect the running of affairs in several learning institutions, especially boarding schools. He said Zimbabwe was the only country whose schools increased fees every term.
“I have been checking with schools in South Africa, certain fees have not changed for four years,” he said.
He said if government was serious, it was supposed to freeze transport fares, rentals, electricity and water bills so that the economy could stabilise.
His observations come at a time when the country is experiencing a liquidity crunch which has seen hundreds of companies closing shop while some banks are even failing to remit depositors’ money on demand.
But unions such as the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) continue to argue that dialogue with government should be given a chance before any strike action.
Parents, on the one hand, have welcomed government’s directive to freeze school fees.
Last week, Pinky Ncube of Bulawayo told the Daily News the directive would go a long way in cushioning overburdened parents.
“Most parents are struggling to get money for school fees at last year’s rates. School heads should be considerate and understand that the future of our children is in their hands,” she said.
Chipo Manyangadze of Warren Park said the move was justified as the country was going through a serious economic crisis.
“I believe an increase in school fees is the worst thing any parent would want to hear, especially in January. But as guardians or parents, we should first get reasons why they want to do so.
“We may discover that they want to enhance security at the school campus by hiring guards which benefits our children. Some parents have girls and they would not want to hear of rape cases or thefts because of lack of security. So at some point we should hear their side of the story,” she said.
Majongwe said government had taken a pro-poor position, and should not use that to justify denying workers a salary increment.
“I want to assure you that we respect the government of the day that was voted in by the people and they must also recognise that workers are suffering and they must urgently address that,” Majongwe said.
He added that government should not continue hiding behind the fact that the economy is not functioning properly.
He said there was a high degree of opulence and extravagance exhibited by politicians.
“How do you justify lack of economic performance if (Happison) Muchechetere is earning $40 000 and Cuthbert Dube is earning $250 000 per month.
“After all, we have read in the press today that they have discovered new diamond deposits. If countries like Lesotho and Swaziland that are producing nothing are affording to pay their teachers up to $1 000, why can’t Zimbabwe pay salaries of $540,” Majongwe said, adding that teachers would strike if their demands are not met.