Teachers’ unions in Zimbabwe have rejected the government’s latest offer to settle the dispute.
Growing up in Zimbabwe in the early days of independence, it was not unusual when more than half the class of primary school students would shout ‘Teacher!’ on being asked what they wanted to be. This was because teaching was a respected profession which came with a cool pay-cheque that afforded them a dignified and envied lifestyle.
They could afford decent homes and modest vehicles and lived lives worthy of professionals and earned the trust of parents who never doubted them as mentors for their children.
But all that has changed now.
“Teachers have lost their dignity and no one can boast of being a teacher now as the fraternity has just lost its flavour,” says Munyaradzi Masiyiwa, who has been in the profession for the past 11 years.
Second class professionals
Masiyiwa believes the government has relegated teachers to second class professionals despite their very important role of educating the nation.
“The profession has drastically changed; there used to be fair treatment of all government employees but now we experience a situation where others get preferential treatment. Teachers are now treated as second class citizens,” he says.
Educators, he says, are now living like any other ordinary citizens who are struggling to make ends meet, failing to provide even the bare basic requirements for their families.
“I am failing to access medical service, cannot afford to take care of my 76-year-old mother, cannot afford to send my kids to school and worse still, cannot adequately feed my family,” he says.
Masiyiwa says while government expects them to be presentable and dress formally at work, the meagre earnings are just not enough to afford decent clothes. “I cannot even afford to meet my daily transport costs for me to go to work,” he adds.
‘Government is humiliating us‘
A female teacher, whose identity cannot be disclosed, says government is humiliating them with the teachers’ indecent salaries now being published everywhere as the war between the educators and their employer escalates.
“The way the government is publicising our salaries in newspapers and on social media has made us a laughing stock in the community. Our learners no longer wish to be teachers anymore as the profession has become a disgrace,” she says.
Teachers in the country have been in a protracted salary dispute with the government which has seen them withholding their service since the beginning of the year citing incapacitation.
Just last week, all teachers’ unions except one rejected a ZWL19,995 package offered by government, insisting on their initial demand of USD520.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe [ARTUZ] president, Obert Masaraure, notes the offer by government is far from meeting the day-to-day needs of teachers.
“The total package they announced for this month is inclusive of the bonus, which is more than 50 percent, and the covid-19 allowance, which ends in December, so it means after December the total package will be just ZWL13,850,” says Masaraure
“The average housing cost is USD50 per month, which translates to ZWL4,050, against the housing allowance of ZWL1,247; where will the difference come from?” he asks.
Masaraure further notes that the transport, education and other allowances which form part of the package are pegged at far lower rates than what is prevailing on the ground. “We demand a clear position from the employer on the ‘future salary’ after the covid-19 allowance is gone and a justification or explanation of how the housing and transport allowances were arrived at,” he says.
Targeted for victimisation
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president, Takavafira Zhou, says while teachers of the period 1985-1990 were dignified, well remunerated and respected professionals, current teachers have fallen from grace to grass.
He says yesteryear teachers were more focused on their work as they had very few worries and had their families well catered for, while today’s teacher is vilified for demanding similar conditions. “Society generally looks down upon teachers and government systematically targets teachers for vilification,” Zhou says.
Continuous hard negotiations needed
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions [ZCTU] secretary general, Japhet Moyo, reckons there is need for continuous hard negotiations if the teachers are to bring back previous glory and dignity to the profession.
“One round of negotiations will not bring joy, especially in an inflationary environment. What is missing at the moment is the seriousness by the employer about improving the conditions of employment of its employees,” he says.
Moyo notes that the offer on the table cannot keep pace with increasing costs as wages have been falling back over the years. The ZCTU boss says government needs to stop the use of unorthodox means to cow the restless workers but instead genuinely engage them and meet their demands which will allow them to have decent meals and dignified lives.