Salary dispute cause for concern as schools open

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Schools opened for the second term this week amid fears that teachers would go on yet another industrial action, at least sit-ins, to demand better pay, which government says it does not have.

Teacher organisations gave conflicting positions this week indicating that confusion and uncertainty will continue to trouble Zimbabwe’s education sector.

“Teachers are going to school but I don’t know if they will teach or not as we don’t have powers to order them. It is up to them to decide whether to teach or not,” said Tendai Chikowore, president of Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta).

Chikowore who is also head of the Apex council – the representative body of the entire civil service – was contemplating a nationwide strike if negotiations set for May 13 – 15 fail to yield positive results.

“When we heard that (Tendai) Biti had announced a salary freeze, we got in touch with the ministry of Public Service and we were told to disregard the finance minister’s statements. We were assured government was working to address the plight of civil servants,” said Chikowore.

The Apex council embarked on a strike at the beginning of the year but failed to force government to raise their salaries. Minister Biti said government could not draw blood from stone and both President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai assured the striking civil servants that government had not forgotten about their plight.

Chikowore and her colleagues in the Apex council officially called the strike off when it had spontaneously crumbled out of apparent worker disorientation and the confusion that surrounded the job action.

Leader of the militant Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Takavafira Zhou said teachers would go back to work but would not be teaching. He said they would be there for the sole purpose of co-ordinating the constitution making process.

“We are going back to school but we will not be teaching. We have made a resolution that teachers go to school only to co-ordinate the constitution making process. It will be easier for us to co-ordinate from our bases.”

“Boycott and staying away has failed to bring results and we want to go to work and strategise on the best way forward and until government co-operates. We will be staring at the students from a distance,” said Zhou.

Zhou said that his organisation had resolved that they were going back to work only to organise demonstrations and hunger strikes when Parliament opens.

“Law makers have to know of our plight and for us to organise demonstrations and other developments, we have to co-ordinate from schools,” he said.

Many parents who spoke to NewsDay said that they were sending their children to school but knew very well that no learning would take place for as long as the salary impasse remained unsolved.

Most parents said that government had let them down by failing to address the problems in education, leaving them with no choice but to part with their hard-earned cash to incentivise teachers.

In urban areas, parents are said to be paying around $10-15 per week while in rural areas parents were mostly paying in kind.

“We are just sending them to school but we don’t know if anything is going to happen. There is nowhere they can stay home forever and it’s better they go there and we pay whatever the teachers demand,” said Evidence Masvora who was accompanying her son to a boarding school.

In schools around the city centre on Tuesday, teachers were present but none was seen working. They indeed appeared to be “watching students from a distance.”

Students from Queen Elizabeth High School could be seen milling around street corners in the city centre while some from Prince Edward were seen outside classrooms with no activity taking place.

Teachers in most schools are said to have decided to teach only those students who could afford to pay them incentives.