Government yesterday committed itself to operationalising non-monetary incentives and economic initiatives for teachers, in a development that saw the majority of their representative unions calling off a strike that was set to begin today.
Non-monetary incentives and other hardship-alleviating initiatives are at the centre of President Mnangagwa's raft of measures to lessen the burden on Government workers in light of austerity measures being undertaken to achieve a long-term economic turnaround.
Primary and Secondary Education Minister Professor Paul Mavima yesterday met the country's nine teachers unions and committed to implementing the initiatives, most of which have been in the pipeline for a long time.
Task teams, constituted by teachers unions' representatives and officials from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, were set up to ensure implementation of agreements made yesterday.
Sector-specific issues which the teachers want addressed include acting, head of department and examination allowances; accommodation challenges; corruption within Government when members want to transfer; permission to go on annual leave and annual leave on transfer.
The educators also want their children, at least three per individual, to be exempted from paying school fees at Government institutions.
Prof Mavima said Government was committed to operationalising these initiatives.
"We agreed on actions with regards to teacher welfare issues that are within the purview of the ministry," he said.
"There are other welfare issues like level of salary that is not within the purview of this ministry. Those are being held at the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) where they are represented by Apex Council. But there are issues where we are advocating for the housing of teachers and strategies to ensure that every teacher has a plot or place where they can build houses or where they can get basic core houses. There are also certain things we can do as Government to empower them economically."
He said task force teams were put in place to ensure implementation of agreements.
"We didn't just talk. We set up task teams which include representatives of teachers unions and people within the ministry to ensure that there is actual implementation of everything we agreed on. These task teams have different timelines on delivery. Some of them are immediate recommendations that have to go to other government departments. Others have long time frames but the majority of them I have said before the end of February I would like to see a report back to see how far we have gone in the implementation of these issues. I have said let us meet again before end of March so that we can review progress together," Prof Mavima said.
He said he hoped all teachers will report for duty today.
"We have made an appeal to the unions to say let us give this negotiation under the NJNC and this process we are doing within the Ministry a chance," he said.
"We also said the unions themselves are part of national institutions, they should be guided by considerations of a bigger national interest and in this particular case it is the welfare of the learners that should guide them. We had disturbances because of the riots that took place and it ate into the learning time of our learners. We can not continue to lose time for our learners otherwise 2019 academic year will be a wash out. We are hopeful that the teachers around the nation will give this process a chance so that in 2019 we can ensure we have taken care of the welfare of our teachers and learners in the primary and secondary education sector," added Professor Mavima.
He said old policies within his ministry will be reviewed.
"There is going to be a thorough review of circulars and statutory instruments based on some of the recommendations the unions gave us," Professor Mavima.
Most teachers unions said they had reconsidered their strike position.
"We clearly understood the Minister's explanation on the need for unions to further rigorously engage Government on issues to do with conditions of service," said Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (TUZ) secretary general Mr Godfrey Kanyongo.
"We appreciate the operationalisation of our issues. We therefore would like to inform all our members to exercise patience until we exhaust all the available opportunities. We are therefore advising our members not to strike tomorrow. Let us give dialogue a chance."
Zimbabwe National Teachers Union (Zinatu)'s Mr Manuel Nyawo said: "Dialogue as a process has not been exhausted. There is no deadlock at the moment because if we go on strike technically we will be found on the wrong side of the law. We do not want our members to be found on the wrong side of the law. We are calling upon all our members and those who are for nation building in this country to take our heed. For tomorrow we are distancing ourselves from the industrial action being called by our colleagues."
Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive Mr Sifiso Ndlovu insisted workers affiliated to his union would down tools.
Teachers are demanding a minimum salary of $1 733, up from $414.