Teachers are determined to get what they want this time around. This is the message coming from the teachers’ associations after meeting with government on 7th January 2018. Schools opened on the 8th January and to a slow start with reports of some teachers not showing up for work.

Government’s position

After the meeting with civil servants’ associations, government advised that an offer would be finalised and tabled at the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) as soon as possible. However, even before the offer comes, it is understood that government has already restated and maintained that it is unable to pay salaries in foreign US Dollars. This is because the civil service wage bill right now is equivalent to US $300 million per month up from US $30 million when they were still able to pay in foreign currency in 2009. Monthly exports are also estimated to be around US $300 million meaning that there is not enough to pay civil servants and take care of other obligations like fuel and medicines. In that sense, the government is severely constrained. Maybe the offer will be in bond note/RTGS terms.

Teachers’ response

In a comprehensive circular to its members, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA), through its National Secretary General Tapson Sibanda says, “The meeting did not conclude any matters and even the hot issue of incapacitation was not conclusively addressed. This leaves workers still incapacitated. ZIMTA now advises that all its members who are incapacitated should formalise their positions by writing urgent letters to their supervisors advising them of their whereabouts and incapacitation…The ZIMTA Legal Department and other ZIMTA Officers are on standby to assist members who will face any form of victimisation.”  The ZIMTA Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Ndhlovu confirmed that the teachers would wait to hear the government offer but their members are unable to report for duty yet. In a video posted by ZIMTA on You Tube, Mr Ndhlovu said the association would be ready to defend those members who may be victimised by what he termed “overzealous” police officers.

Smaller union, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said that their members would only report for duty twice a week. “We resolved that teachers are incapacitated to turn up for duty and they will be attending work for two days per week, the other three days they will be working somewhere,” said Raymond Majongwe, PTUZ Secretary General. There was no clarity on which two days the members would be at work. Interestingly, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) members were picketing outside Finance and Economic Development Minister Mthuli Ncube’s office throughout Monday 7th January 2019. They were briefly arrested, detained and later released without any charges. It looks like they are also keen to maintain the pressure on government. The next few days are going to be a litmus test for government’s ability to deal with its unrest from the teacher’s side.

Junior Doctors

It looks like the Junior Doctors’ strike is also not over yet. The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) are still adamant that their struggle continues. While conceding that some of their members reported for duty as reported by state media after crucial meetings with government over the weekend, ZHDA says, “The ZHDA members nationwide however felt that the agreement did not take cognizance of their immediate incapacitation in a raging economy as no current offer was made on the remuneration of Doctors to improve their welfare. Additionally, there were no timelines and evaluable targets for the provision of drugs and protective equipment…The ZHDA members have therefore remained incapacitated and will not be able to resume normal duty till these matters have been addressed by their employer.” The fear is that more hospital staff like nurses may join in the strike since they are also affected by the same issues.

As teachers, Junior Doctors and other civil servants wait for a response from government, it is worrisome to note that time is running out. Students will miss valuable lessons. Patients will continue to suffer. The Doctors have been away from work for almost 40 days now. A solution is needed as soon as possible.