Teachers file court challenge after minister announces mass suspensions

HARARE – Human rights lawyers have filed an urgent court application to stop the government from suspending thousands of teachers striking over poor pay.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum initiated the court action on behalf of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) on Friday, a day after a minister announced that all teachers who failed to report for work were being suspended without pay for three months.

ARTUZ president Obert Masaraure, in an affidavit, said the suspensions announced by primary and secondary education minister Evelyn Ndlovu were “unreasonable and unfair.”

The teachers say the “blanket imposition” of the suspensions “without justification and reasonable findings of any alleged misconduct… infringes on the teachers’ right to fair labour practices and standards.”

Constitutional law expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Professor Lovemore Madhuku said the government was on shaky ground.

“Teachers cannot be suspended from work by a government minister, they are employed by the Public service Commission (PSC),” Madhuku said.

“Even the PSC itself has no power whatsoever to effect a blanket and mass suspension. The purported suspensions are unacceptable, the government must dialogue with teachers’ unions and address issues.”

A teachers’ strike has paralysed learning at many Zimbabwean schools, which opened this week after a prolonged closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Many teachers decided to stay at home to protest salaries of about US$95 a month. A few who reported for work did not teach. The teachers are demanding that their pay be increased to about $540 per month.

The government has offered a 20 percent pay increase, payment of part of the teachers’ salaries as US$100, and subsidies on the purchases of cars and houses. Unions say the raise is equivalent to about US$20 and far short of their demands.

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