By Tatenda Chitagu/Brenna Matendere
The opening of schools for examination classes after a hiatus caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been dealt a blow after teachers declared incapacitation, NewsDay Weekender has learnt.
Government announced Grade Seven, Ordinary and Advanced Level exam classes will resume lessons on September 28, with examinations starting on December 1.
But two teacher unions, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union in Zimbabwe (Artuz) and the Progressive Teachers Union in Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said their members cannot make it back to work as they do not have transport money and are facing food shortages.
In a letter to chairperson of the Public Service Commission Vincent Hungwe, Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere requested an urgent review of teachers’ salaries to their August 2018 benchmark of US$520 or the equivalent at the prevailing interbank rate.
“This letter serves to inform you that as Artuz members we are incapacitated to report back for duty and survive this harsh economic environment heightened by COVID-19,” Chere wrote. “We can no longer afford transport to duty stations, to pay basic food stuffs, rentals, water, electricity bills and other essential services now priced in US dollars.”
Chere added: “Our paltry salaries in RTGS cannot sustain us for a whole month or even a week. We request an urgent review of our salaries in US dollar or RTGS at the prevailing interbank rate, with monthly reviews from the government. We urge the employer to come up with an urgent solution to avert our situation,” the letter read in part.
Teachers started receiving their salaries this week, with some crying foul after funeral insurance fees of $1 000 were added to their cost.
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Most teachers who earned about $3 800 walked away with about $2 600, about US$31 using the auction rate, after deductions of the insurance fees.
The teachers are also yet to receive their US$75 COVID-19 allowance.
PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou reiterated that the government has overstretched the patience of teachers who have waited for long to have their working conditions improved. “Admittedly, the government has overstretched teachers’ patience and elasticity that has now reached a breaking point. Only a few days before public schools open, there is no clarity over improvement of salaries and conditions of service,” he said.
“What is inherently clear is that teachers have all tested positive to poverty and unless there is a concerted effort to address this long standing issue, teachers would be incapacitated to report for work on 28 July 2020.”
“Yet sound as this appears, the government has been prevaricating since its flirtation with moribund, obsolete and archaic Apex Council in Victoria Falls in February 2020.” He added that the Apex Council has blatantly failed to lobby for better salaries of teachers and entirety of public service workers.
“Worse still Apex Council’s unprocedural extension of mandate has even expired, but government is still closeted to romance with it for firefighting escapades instead of addressing the plight of teachers. Government is, therefore, taking teachers as if they are of no account.”
“Government has also been arrogant to the extent of introducing discrepancies among its employees with effect from June 2020 under what presidential spokesperson, George Charamba, called presidential prerogative.
“That presidential prerogative is at best a fantasy and at worst a dangerous threat to security of the country and teaching profession. Teachers’ salaries have remained pegged at $3 800 to $4 500 at a time when sectors that hitherto earned less than teachers increased to $8 000-$19 000 and $9 000-$20 000.”
He added: “Government salaries are determined by qualifications, years of experience, responsibility and promotion. It is puzzling that the qualifications, responsibility, promotions and years of experience of teachers have suddenly been rendered useless by the new dispensation.”