BY VENERANDA LANGA
GOVERNMENT has, in an unprecedented move, put 25 000 temporary teachers on standby for possible takeover from qualified teachers who have been on strike over poor salaries since Monday when schools reopened for examination classes.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Mathema (pictured) told Parliament yesterday that government had no choice but to engage temporary teachers to take over examination classes.
He accused qualified teachers of continuously spurning offers made by government.
The development came as government yesterday dangled a 40% cost of living adjustment to its restive workers, but teachers spurned the offer, insisting on a negotiated deal.
Over 136 000 teachers have refused to report for duty demanding at least US$520 or its equivalent per month 40% hike.
The educators are also
demanding personal protective equipment to protect themselves and the pupils from contracting COVID-19.
The standoff between teachers and government comes as pupils are preparing for final examinations that begin on December 1 after missing classes for almost six months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Attendance on the first day saw a high turnout of learners and low turnout of teachers, but the situation was better on the second day,” Mathema said.
“We understand that some teachers have cited incapacitation but teachers cannot receive salaries and fail to report to work on the first day. Where is the rationale for government to continue paying them?
He added: “Currently, more than 25 000 teachers are looking for work and government needs to have an alternative to ensure that learners are supported in terms of teaching so that they are ready for examinations whose dates have been announced from December 1 to January 6.”
Mathema claimed his ministry had sourced 8 500 personal protective equipment for 9 625 government and council-run schools, and set up bays for health emergencies at all schools.
But MPs accused him of being arrogant and wrecking the education sector by imposing half-backed policies.
In a related matter, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa addressing a Press conference in the capital said government had resolved to give civil servants a 40% cost of living adjustment, while their US$75 COVID-19 allowance would remain in place until end of year.
“Government is aware of the challenges facing civil servants including teachers and is committed to improving the welfare of its workers,” Mutsvangwa said.
“Consultations are currently underway to consider the request by the Apex Council in the last negotiating meeting held with the government.
“On its part, the government has maintained the US$75 COVID-19 allowance up to the end of December and the 40% cost of living adjustment, which the workers have requested the government to improve, has been paid and will reflect in civil servants accounts by end of day tomorrow.”
She added: “Normally, government does not effect salary adjustments without a signed agreement, but we have had to go out of our way to cushion our dedicated workers.”
On fees increases, Mathema said: “Up to now, I have not approved any school fees increases, so those schools that have increased them have done so illegally and action will be taken.
“All schools in Zimbabwe can only increase fees after approval by the ministry, and so, I urge parents to participate in some of these decisions because some school development committees do not consult parents.”
Mathema, however, said schools would close in December as per normal school calendar.
Meanwhile, eight teachers’ unions in a joint statement pleaded with President Emmerson Mnangagwa to intervene and resolved the chaos in the education sector.
“To the President, (we say) what is happening in the education sector should have moved you by now. Your silence, Your Excellency, is shocking,” the unions said.
“We do not want to believe that you want to be remembered for destroying the education system of this country when you are gone. The teachers need your attention and time for positive intervention is now.”
Sifiso Ndlovu, chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, the biggest teacher union in the country said: “It is an illusion to think that you can replace 100 000 by 25 000 teachers and a sign of decay in the education system.
“Teachers have been in slavery for the past 18 months when their salaries and purchasing power were ravaged by currency switching and inflation. This level of intolerance is an indictment to the authorities. We are going to resist this with all our might and unshaken resolve.”