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Disjointed teachers’ unions fail to strike

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8 mins read

Fortune Nkosi

Bulawayo—Lack of unity has contributed to teachers’ failure to collectively strike against a measly US$20 increment for civil servants, it has been established.

Government recently awarded its employees the US$20 on top of the average US$300 and a local currency component amounting to about US$100 that civil servants are getting.

Teachers, who in the past often led in industrial action for better working conditions in the public sector, immediately expressed their displeasure at the paltry increment that can hardly buy two days’ supplies for an average family in Zimbabwe.

Disgruntled
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) threatened a strike following the small increment and blamed the umbrella Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions (ZCPSTU) of failing to effectively represent civil servants through “rotten deals” with the government.

One of the oldest and biggest teachers’ unions, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA), also accused the government of paying lip service to civil servants’ demand and subtly warned that the neglect would not be tolerated again.

A fledgling outfit, the Federation of Zimbabwe Educators’ Union (FOZEU) last week organised a strike as learners wrote their end-of-term examinations but it largely had no takers as the other unions kept to the classrooms and preferred continued dialogue with the government.

Although FOZEU claimed teachers had joined their strike en masse, it was business as usual at most schools around the country, with teachers saying they were yet to hear from the unions they are affiliated to on the job action.

Rival unions insisted that any industrial action by the educators must include consultations with the teaching grassroots for buy-in.

Taungana Ndoro, the communications and advocacy director in the primary and secondary education ministry, dismissed claims of a strike taking place last week.

In rural areas, Zimbabwean teachers teach under difficult conditions

“Our teachers were at work 100 percent there is no one who is on strike, all of them were at work if they were not at work some of them had gone to the NUST (National University of Science and Technology) games in Masvingo. There are others at the NUST games in Victoria Falls, otherwise all our teachers were at work,” Ndoro told NewsHub.

He claimed some teachers and civil servants wrote to the ministry distancing themselves from the reported industrial action.

No consultations
Despite its anger at the US$20 increment, ZIMTA, through its president Akuneni Maposa who is also the leader of another association, the Federation of Educators Unions of Zimbabwe (FEUZ), said FOZEU had not consulted them.

“We are an independent union as ZIMTA and an independent federation as FEUZ and we stand directed by our members,” he said.

“They (FOZEU) have taken the decision (to strike) without consulting or informing us. As the president of FEUZ, I have not received any instructions from the nine teachers’ unions affiliated to our federation to call for job action. They didn’t tell us that they have consulted with their members for job action,” said Maposa.

“To take that move (striking) we must consult widely among our members and psyche them up to ensure that they are ready. Any job action is not just about the leadership but the collective membership,” added the teachers’ leader.

Over the years, teachers’ unions have sprouted in the country and, in addition, they include the Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads (ZINUSH), National Association of School Heads (NASH) and the Zimbabwe National Educators’ Union (ZINEU).

Also included in the cocktail are the Zimbabwe National Teachers’ Union (ZINATU), Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), Zimbabwe Democratic Teachers’ Union (ZDTU), Zimbabwe Rural Teachers’ Union (ZRTU), College Lecturers’ Association of Zimbabwe (COLAZ) and Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (TUZ).

Maposa, however, said ZIMTA was pursuing dialogue with the government and could not simultaneously participate in industrial action.

“At the moment, ZIMTA is pursuing dialogue and we don’t want to be seen as if we are negotiating in bad faith,” he told NewsHub, adding, though, that the US$20 increment was “far below our expectation” and a “mockery of the teacher’s dedication to work”.

“We have set our benchmark at US$840. That is for negotiating purposes. We are very much aware that, through research, the expected remuneration is…around US$1 200,” added Maposa.

Some teachers who talked to this publication accused their representative bodies of “letting us down”.
“They (unions) claim to fight for us but they are lining their pockets through subscriptions which are in US dollars,” said one teacher who indicated that members were paying between US$5 and US$8 to the unions every month.

Whopping US$8 million
Zimfact, a Harare-based fact-checking outfit, revealed in July 2022 that Zimbabwe had some 135,000 public school teachers.

Combined, it would mean that teachers are contributing at least US$8.1 million to the unions per year. The PTUZ president, Takavafira Zhou, said his union avoided industrial action last week because the timing was bad since schools were about to close. The first-term school calendar folded today (Wednesday).

“Several schools closed yesterday and today, and we did not see adequate time for teachers to mount a strike. The whole of last week from Wednesday…teachers were leaving their schools to access their salaries, so you couldn’t clearly assess whether teachers were on industrial action or they had gone to exercise their right in terms of accessing their pay,” he told NewsHub.

“Over and above, about one third of teachers was involved in athletics in primary schools in Masvingo while secondary schools were in Victoria Falls. Therefore, it wouldn’t act well to embark on industrial action in the absence of (such a number of teachers),” added Zhou, who urged serious planning and consultations among teachers’ unions.

Zhou said teachers needed a basic salary of US$540, in addition to housing and transport allowances amounting to at least US$420, bringing the total to a minimum of US$960. He said there was a host of other allowances that must be considered.

“These are a bloated class allowance, composite class allowance, HOD (head of department) allowance and…infant allowance that we agreed to in the in the past five years but have never been effected,” said the PTUZ leader.