Zimbabwe teachers’ unions divided over government offer

Zimbabwean teachers protesting for better salaries. Photo from ZIMTA facebook

Even though they are divided over a 17,5% salary increase, trade unions representing teachers in Zimbabwe argue that class sizes, institutional accommodation for teachers as well as professionalization of teaching are still challenges facing education in Zimbabwe.

Harare, Zimbabwe

The Zimbabwean government has offered 17,5% salary increase for teachers. It has been described in some quarters as a ploy to ensure that civil servants vote for the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) ahead of the general elections next month. The offer by the Mnangwanga-led government has caused divisions among teachers’ unions in Zimbabwe.

Teacher’s have not received a salary increment since 2013 and earlier this year, the nation’s unions joined together to form the Federation of Zimbabwean Educators’ Union (FOZEU) which petitioned their employer for a 100% salary increment, a 75% rural allowance increment, restoration of vacation leave and a guarantee of safety before, during and after elections. FOZEU declared that if these needs were not met then they would strike.

Facilitating negotiations between FOZEU and the government was the Apex Council which is the umbrella body for all salary negotiations for civil servants in Zimbabwe. In May, marathon collective bargaining meetings between FOZEU and the Apex council were held. The result of the negotiations was the government’s agreement to increase educators’ salaries by 17,5% and the rural allowance by 5%. Not all of the unions have accepted the outcome however.

The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta), the largest teachers’ union in Zimbabwe, is one of the unions that did accept the offer, for which it is attracting a lot of flack with its members questioning if the union has their best interests at heart. “Zimta is being too passive, we should go and strike already,” are the sentiments of Matigari Njirungu, a teacher in Masvingo who is also the chief provider for his family.

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Zimta’s chief executive officer, Sifiso Ndlovu told Elitsha that while the 17,5% increase is ” inadequate”, it is a “better trade off in that it is specific to civil servants as a non-taxable award.”

Meanwhile Obed Masawure, the national president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) said that they have rejected the offer because it is still below Zimbabwe’s poverty datum line. Masawure criticised the unions that have accepted the offer for not consulting fully with their members. “The ones that have accepted the offer is because of the leadership that has sold out the workers,” he claimed.

Statistically, teachers in Zimbabwe are living below the poverty line since this is set at $539 and the maximum salary for Zimbabwean educators is $503. Zimta, following the backlash from educators, released a statement saying that they are simply following the process and are not allowing political elements to cloud their judgment, and that they remain committed to ensuring that teachers’ welfare is comprehensively addressed.

The salary increase offer by the ZANU-PF government is seen as a way of ensuring that civil servants vote for the party in July. Photo from Zimta facebook.

Teachers have also been  vocal about the way Apex is handling negotiations. “The government is bargaining in bad faith. It’s a sign that they are not taking the teachers’ needs and concerns seriously….” said Thandeka Moyo*, a teacher in Matebeleland.

Thabiso Sousa*, a teacher in  Mashonaland and father of two daughters in high school, said, “Students that I taught and [who] decided to do nursing are telling me that they’re being given $5000 while I’m receiving a shameful increase of less than $100. We can barely afford to eat good food and have to struggle to do side projects to raise money because we are time-constrained as well as financially tied.”

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Shingirai Sadza*, a teacher also in the Mashonaland District, has to cater for her family of five using her salary. “Most of the teachers sell sweets and airtime to the students in order to raise enough money for transport and food. The money we earn barely covers anything since many of us have to cater for our entire families. I’m actually at university right now and have to pay for both my fees and my daughter’s school fees. It’s so stressful because I’m barely managing with little money and the unreasonable workload we’re being given.”

Shingirai, Thandeka and Thabiso aren’t the only educators unhappy with the current situation. With this general air of discontent and ill-will it seems that a strike in the education sector may be declared soon.

The ARTUZ said that they have started with a campaign where every Friday the teacher will down tools and will be putting pressure on those members of the Apex council who they feel short-changed the teachers during the negotiations. “Teachers will wear red every Friday and will go to work but they won’t be teaching. Instead, they will be on their phones contacting those who were not sincere in representing our demands during negotiations,” he said. A statement by the union singles out Cecilia Alexander who leads the Apex Council as one of the targets of this action.

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