TODAY, Bulawayo High Court judge Justice Nokuthula Moyo will preside over a “right-to-education” case under which a nine-year-old Gwanda pupil, Amuhelang Ulukile Dube is suing teachers and government over the threat by the educators to go on strike to protest low pay.
Dube, from Mafuko Primary School, is seeking an order to bar teachers at public schools from going on industrial action to press for better salaries.
Labour unions for teachers such as the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Ptuz) and the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) are among the respondents.
Other cited respondents include the Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions, Public Service Commission, Primary and Secondary Education, Public Service and Finance ministries.
This is a curious case, in which the courts are being asked to determine which right is greater than the other: the right to education or the right for workers to withdraw their labour.
Is there a constitutionally guaranteed right that supersedes another? How can the right balance be struck that ensures that the rights of pupils to education is protected while workers enjoy their civil liberties to undertake industrial action if they are not happy with their employer?
Sadly, the case is a result of the disdain with which government has treated, not only teachers, but its workers in recent times.
Among the most vocal of the government’s employees have been doctors, nurses and teachers.
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The situation in the health sector is well-documented and the sad reality is that years of neglect and lack of investment in the public health system, poor staff morale and low salaries have led to a massive brain drain.
Government has chosen to suppress the health personnel instead of engaging with them to find common ground.
Where the government should be addressing their welfare, it proposed a Health Service Amendment Bill to bar personnel from participating in strikes that last longer than three days, or more than 72 hours in a two-week period.
Under the Bill, healthcare workers will also be obligated “to provide the skill, expertise, care and service to patients in a medical emergency or needing critical or intensive care” despite being on strike.
The impasse remains. As a result, public health institutions have become death traps.
Patients admitted into public hospitals now have no guarantee of receiving any care and reports abound of patients dying in hospital corridors while waiting for attention. Others go for as long as five days without being attended to. There is no public health system to speak of.
That is what happens when a government chooses to use military tactics, intimidation, threats and violence instead of addressing a simple labour problem.
The situation teachers find themselves in is not dissimilar and for years, government has paid scant attention to their cries for a living wage. All the case before the courts does is to highlight the poor leadership and arrogance from government.
Teachers cannot live on patriotism, they have families to look after. The same goes for all public workers and no court rules will change that.