By Desmond Chingarande
Teachers yesterday hit back at President Emmerson Mnangagwa, saying he should respect their profession and offer them a living wage instead of reducing them to charity cases.
Mnangagwa last week threatened teachers, saying he would never allow them to hold his government to ransom after only a handful of them turned up for work when schools reopened for examination classes two weeks ago.
He also threatened to withhold their salaries.
“Let me assure all of you that the government will never be held to ransom by teachers. By failing to report for duty, they think they will push us to do what they want. No, we are very principled on that. Only those who work will get paid,” Mnangagwa said during his visit to Chimanimani Cyclone Idai victims.
But in a joint statement yesterday, the teachers unions said they would not be deterred by threats as they had reached the last stage of their incapacitation as witnessed by more teachers deserting the schools.
“We are worried that His Excellency, President ED Mnangagwa, made remarks threatening teachers on industrial action before seeking engagement and remaining indifferent to the plight of the teachers. Teachers are not for charity, but professionals who are only crying for dignified treatment, reasonable salaries and befitting conditions of service,” the teachers said.
“We are shocked by some acts of ‘benevolence’ in the form of food handouts by some misguided elements who want to hijack the teachers’ incapacitation for personal aggrandisement. The nation should know that teachers in all public schools are not at work because the government has failed them and will not succumb to any threats. Where there are incidents of teaching taking place, it is just cosmetic.”
The teachers said the $600 million meant for COVID-19 did not filter to the schools as evidenced by the acute shortage of personal protective equipment and other items in most schools.
“We are aware that the government is still acting in denial about the situation in our schools as evidenced by its threats to fire teachers or cease their salaries and pretending that the school system is functioning normally. We, the undersigned teachers’ representatives, do hereby reiterate that no amount of force or threats can capacitate teachers who have all tested positive to poverty. The employer should swallow her pride and do the right thing.”
They urged Mnangagwa’s administration to have a meaningful engagement with them and offer agreed salaries which are not discriminatory among government workers so that he could not be remembered for destroying the education system of this country.
“It is only through meaningful engagement, improved salaries, eradication of discrimination among government workers, assurance of health and safety of teachers and pupils during this COVID-19 period, and harmonisation of labour laws that teachers’ return to schools can be guaranteed. Once the government brings a meaningful offer, teachers are ready to report for duty thereafter. We, teachers, want a separate collective bargaining board where we can articulate the education specific issues unlike the current scenario where the education sector is bunched with everyone else.”
The unions also called on the few educators still reporting for duty to stay at home as this was the only way to force government to consider their plight.
“Teachers should remain resolute and focused on our demands. All pusillanimous tendencies should be a thing of the past going forward. Teachers should encourage those who are still reporting for duty to join others in showing the government that we deserve better,” the teachers said.
They said they were not against parents and students, but were simply saying parents should not entrust the future of their children in the hands of frustrated, poorly remunerated and stressed teachers.
Teacher representatives are calling for a minimum salary of US$520 or its equivalent at the auction rate, but government has indicated that it was not in a position to pay in United States dollars.