REPORTS that teachers have rejected government’s 45% pay rise offer, insisting on US$550 or its equivalent in local currency using the bank auction rate are regrettable.
The rejection means there could be chaos in schools should the government decide to have learners back to learning institutions if COVID-19 cases subsidy anytime soon.
That clearly does not bode well for the education sector or the country’s wellbeing in the short-to-long-term. So the merry-go-round continues, sadly, at the expense of impoverished parents who toil daily to pay extortionate school fees. During the COVID-19-induced lockdowns, the parents also have to bear the exorbitant costs of data for their children to attend online lessons. Only less than a third of learners have access to the internet, if at all.
Most teachers are not likely to go back to work, as was the case when schools opened for the first term in March. Those who reported for duty were not working and Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa confirmed that during one of her post-Cabinet briefings in May.
Is there anything that the country’s Executive has learnt? Probably yes, that command approaches don’t always work in a democratic society. They have tried intimidating teachers with sacking, arrest and withdrawal of salaries and this hasn’t worked. The teachers did not budge.
It is our belief that the unfortunate developments in the education sector need all the stakeholders to be sincere, realistic and pragmatic. Teachers have demanded US$550, the salary they were earning in 2018. The sagging economic situation in the country means government will not agree to the demand. If it does, it’s tantamount to political suicide. But who are we to say, it has made worse decisions in the past anyway.
What the teachers are clamouring for is not feasible as the economy is underperforming. Clearly, teachers must be realistic. With an estimated 136 000 teachers, government will need over US$74 million in salaries alone monthly, translating to close to a billion annually.
We believe teachers should appreciate that the country’s tax base is shrinking as the economy is now largely informal while government should ensure it pays professionals handsomely. Not anything below the poverty datum line. The contradictions between the two parties should be put aside for the country to progress. Increasing salaries for the security services sector while ignoring teachers is unfathomable. This gives a wrong impression to teachers and other civil servants. Why regard them as less important?
Government should arrest corruption and desist from policy inconsistency that fuel price increases. There is a need for teachers and the government to swallow their pride and pursue negotiations. Teachers are a huge constituency that has the potential to cause chaos in the country. Together, brick-by-brick, citizens can build this country to a remarkably strong economy. The continued haggling only serves to distract the country from building a strong united citizenry. What’s important is for government to pay teachers a living wage — nothing more, nothing less! Teachers and government should seek a lasting solution and move forward.