Government threatens teachers after ’90 percent’ boycott work as schools open

BULAWAYO – The government threatened “appropriate measures” on Monday after one of the most successful work boycotts by teachers over poor pay.

Seeking to downplay the strike, the ministry of primary and secondary education claimed “the majority of school children were able to attend classes” as the delayed first term finally opened.

The ministry added in a statement: “Regrettably, the government has noted that in a few instances, learners were barred from accessing schools. The government awaits definitive information on the reasons, so as to respond appropriately.”

The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said there was no learning in a large majority of schools.

“Statistics so far show that 90 percent of teachers have not turned up for work. There are indications that teachers in private schools mostly in urban areas have turned up for work because of lucrative incentives given by parents against regulations,” the PTUZ said.

Teachers earn an average Z$21,000 per month, officially about US$180, but as little as US$85 on the more commonly-used black market.

Unions say the pay is not enough to meet the teachers’ basic needs, including travel to work.

Officially, unions have not declared a strike but say teachers are “incapacitated.”

The government statement on Monday said ministers were “committed to the shared aspiration for the continuous improvement of conditions of service in the entire civil service.”

“In that regard, the government is seized with the positive adjustment of conditions for its workers within the current budgetary framework. Those adjustments will be announced soon when specific details have been finalised by treasury,” the statement added.

The teachers want to be paid at the same level as their salaries in 2018 when they earned US$540, before the reintroduction of a weak local currency which has significantly eroded the value of their pay.

A union of headmasters has backed the teachers’ strike, an unusual step which has rattled the government. The Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads (ZINUSH) said its members had received threats.

“Our members are not on strike, but we are simply saying we have no capacity to report to work and are not capacitated to work,” the heads said.

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