3 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Teacher Strikes On Hold As New School Term Looms

Photo: Obi-Akpere/IRIN-Flickr
Zimbabwe's unity government has announced a package of measures to get teachers and children back into classrooms.

Teachers in Zimbabwe have vowed to return to their stations when the school year begins next week, despite ongoing anger about low salaries and poor working conditions.

There has been concern that the start of the new term would be delayed because of threats of a national teachers' strike, with educators across the country protesting very low monthly state wages.

But two teachers' unions have both moved to reassure the public that the school year will begin as planned next Tuesday, despite the teachers' grievances with the government. The Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (Zimta) has said it has lined up provincial annual general meetings (AGMs) across the country to discuss, among other things, deteriorating conditions of service for its members. Zimta chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu was quoted in the NewsDay newspaper as saying that any strike action would only happen after these meetings.

Takavafira Zhou, the President of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), told SW Radio Africa on Thursday that teachers will be back to welcome students on Tuesday. But he warned that "morale is very low," and a strike is not yet out of the question.

"There has been no concerted effort by the government to meet teachers and explain the way forward. There has been a promise of a salary adjustment but there are no more details available. Teachers want a meaningful salary increase so if they don't get that, then we will have to see what happens," Zhou said.

He added: "We are not assured that teachers will not embark on a strike if their salaries are not increased by their next pay check. There is a meeting with unions happening next week to chart the way forward."

Finance Minister Tendai Biti announced late last year that civil servants would get an "inflation-related" salary increment in January. He said the wage increase was a 'top priority' for the government, but he did not provide the actual figures for the pay hike.

The PTUZ has now called for the increase to reflect the poverty datum line and not inflation. Zhou said that an increase to match inflation would only see people earning between six and eight dollars more a month.

"We need the government to explain what is going to happen. Teachers and civil servants need a meaningful increase to survive. Also, we are certain we are heading into an election year, and teachers want an increase before that election," Zhou said.

Meanwhile, since 2010, thousands of school leavers have been left fighting to secure employment after the national examination council ZIMSEC failed to issue A and O level certificates.

The government had contracted a British firm to process the certificates, because ZIMSEC does not have the capacity to produce the documents. But this decision was resulting in a backlog of more than two years.

Certificates for 2010 have just been released.

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