via Teacher incentives create rift | The Financial Gazette 21 Nov 2013
Incentives, which have served some teachers very well, and others not so well, have become a highly charged and divisive issue among the local teaching fraternity. Because of the resultant contention, the incentives have increasingly been viewed as unnecessary by teachers’ unions who feel that they fly in the face of real salary increments and undermine their effort to lobby with one strong voice.
With a promise by the ZANU-PF government of salary increases well above the poverty datum line (PDL), the unions believe that they could afford to let the divisive incentives go once President Robert Mugabe’s administration has fulfilled its promise.
The PDL is used to evaluate both absolute and relative poverty by measuring the median income of people below a certain income quintile.
It represents the cost of a given standard of living that must be attained if a person is deemed not to be poor. In other words, an individual whose income falls below the PDL is deemed to be poorly paid.
Government workers have therefore been up in arms with their employer, pressing for PDL-linked salaries and improved working conditions.
Before the introduction of the incentives, teachers were migrating to neighbouring countries such as Botswana and South Africa in search of greener pastures.
As a result, the standards of education have declined to worrying levels while morale on the part of the teachers has hit rock bottom.
Incentives were introduced in 2009 by David Coltart, then minister of education, sport, arts and culture, to motivate and encourage teachers to continue in the profession.
Since then teachers in urban schools have received between US$150 and US$400 in incentives, depending on their schools, plus a monthly salary of about US$300 from the government.
It has been a double blow for parents who are being made to pay for the teachers’ incentives on top of the usual tuition fees.
At the same time, these parents are also indirectly funding the schools through Pay As You Earn and other taxes paid to the fiscus.
To most of these parents, what matters most is to enable their children to access better education.
In spite of their sacrifice, all is not well in the teaching profession. Cracks are emerging between unions and their membership.
The major bone of contention arising from the incentives has been that what a teacher gets in incentives is influenced by how affluent the school and its parents are.
They have worked in favour of teachers in private schools and others in low density areas while hugely disadvantaging those working in rural areas and high density suburbs where incomes of parents are much lower and at times non-existent.
This has caused discord among teachers as with such disparities they cannot all speak with one voice.
In its campaign for the July 31 elections, ZANU-PF promised to review salaries for teachers and pledged this would take top priority once the new administration was in power.
Talks have been under way with unions submitting their proposed salaries to government. Unions expect the lowest paid worker to earn at least US$600.
Vusumuzi Mahlangu, the Bulawayo provincial co-ordinator of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said once the salaries have been reviewed to levels above the PDL then there would be no need for the incentives.
“The incentives were a stop-gap measure to counteract the low salaries teachers were receiving and the incentives are a source of conflict between teachers and parents. If something comes up, then incentives will not be necessary as the teachers will be earning above the PDL, but at the moment it’s just a promise that has been made by the government,” said Mahlangu.
The chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, Sifiso Ndlovu, concurred with Mahlangu.
Ndlovu said incentives would no longer be necessary once the government has fulfilled its promise.
“The only positive way of eliminating the incentives is through the increase of salaries. It is not possible to carry the burden of salaries and remuneration of teachers at the same time,” said Ndlovu.
While the scrapping of the incentives would be welcomed by parents, provided it does not lead to a decline in education standards, teachers are urging government to approach this emotive issue with caution.
They argue that it would be too early to do away with the incentives since the government has just made a promise which it is still to implement.
Teachers view the incentives as something necessary and a form of compensation for all the years they were earning very little.
Dorcas Ncube, a teacher at Milton High School, said the payments have incentivised them to work even harder and produce good results.
“There are no prospects of us getting the proposed new salaries.
“For how long have we been struggling with these mere US$200 monthly salaries, while security guards without degrees are earning US$600 and above and thus we need to be compensated for that? Good incentives go hand in hand with good results and those that are poorly remunerated produce poor results,” said Ncube.
Cedric Mashombe, a teacher from Gwanda High School, said it would be unfair to scrap the incentives without first raising the salaries to levels commensurate with their effort.
“Incentives should not be scrapped off as they ensure that teachers have a reason to stay and work harder given their (poor) salaries. We should not base our arguments on pledges for salary increases that have not yet been fulfilled,” said Mashombe.
From the arguments, both unions and the teachers appear to have valid arguments. None of them would want the incentives to stay a day longer once the government has acceded to the demands by the unions.
What remains to be seen is whether the government would hike salaries for civil servants in line with the demands by the unions to allow for the scrapping of these divisive incentives.