When teachers’ unions made the decision to suspend their strike, we were made to believe that this was premised on the agreement that government would meet them to iron out sector specific grievances. It looks like that meeting never materialized and teachers are crying foul once more. Has their trust been abused, or they are asking for too much from a government that does not have the money to pay them?
Urgent meeting request
In a letter dated 13th February 2019, 8 teachers’ unions which include the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and the Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (TUZ) requested for a meeting on the understanding that such a meeting has already been agreed to. “We write to remind your honourable office of a meeting between Public Service Commission and the Education Sector which was promised during our last meeting of 10 February 2019, between Ministry and the Teachers’ Unions. We therefore write to request the said meeting which aims to discuss and resolve Sector Specific demands and other issues affecting the sector,” read the letter.
In response, the Public Service Commission makes it clear that there will be no such meeting saying, “Please be advised that the Commission will not be meeting with any Unions / Associations directly. You are therefore advised to forward your issues to the National Joint Negotiation Council established in terms of SI 141 OF 1997, through the Apex Council.” Both government and the teachers know that the Apex Council is in no rush to call for collective job action, opting to give dialogue a chance. This is the reason why teachers’ unions decided to go it alone in the first place.
No doubt, the issues need to be looked at in the right context. Firstly, it is a matter of public record that government prefers to wait until April 2019 before awarding a full cost of living adjustment as per normal practice. Even President Emmerson Mnangagwa confirmed this at a recent rally in Rutenga. But normal practice seems to have been overtaken by events, inflation continues to rise unabated. Secondly, when teachers made a decision to break away from the Apex Council decision to suspend their strike, government was offering about $500 for the lowest paid while civil servants wanted about $1 700. The gap was too wide, seemingly irreconcilable. That civil servants and other employees’ salaries have been eroded by runaway inflation over the past four months is a no brainer. Without even taking into account the effects that the recently announced Monetary Policy Statement will have on the status quo, a genuine need for a salary adjustment already exists. And, that government cannot afford a huge salary increase is not in doubt, it is not even the problem. The biggest problem is that government is shifting goalposts in an attempt to buy time. In this context, the thought that teachers may go back on strike is a frightening one, but one that seems increasingly unavoidable. They are fast losing trust in their employer.
April seems far off. Teachers have to report for duty daily until then. They claim they do not have enough money to do so. On their part, government should walk the talk, even if they are not capable of paying what the teachers want. Continuing to dent the trust of their employees is untenable and may unfortunately lead to confrontational consequences like collective job action. There is no need for that.
Other civil servants are as affected as teachers. The teacher’s unions are well represented at the apex council. If the teachers unions want to go it alone it means they do not have confidence in their own apex council. Unfortunately they cannot bypass it. The most they can do is to have a vote of no confidence in the apex council and bring in new members.