SCHOOL Headmasters have said Government cannot suspend teachers from service for absconding from work for two to three days.
The statement comes after Government announced yesterday that it had suspended, with immediate effect, all striking teachers “without pay” for a period of three months after they spurned a 20% salary increase and other benefits extended to them on Tuesday.
Unions rejected the government offer, saying the proposed pay rise is too low. Union officials also said they doubt the government will deliver on the promises of cheaper houses and duty-free importation of cars, citing the failure of previous pledges.
They added that teachers cannot afford to purchase cars, even with the subsidies. While doing so, the teachers keep insisting on the pre-October 2018 salary or its equivalent in local currency. In 2018, teachers earned the equivalent of about $540 a month but that amount has been eroded by years of inflation, currently estimated at 60%, and the devaluation of Zimbabwe’s currency.
The government denounced the strike as “unwarranted conduct” that is depriving children of their right to education.
With the standoff getting tense while schools largely remained closed, Primary and Education minister Evelyn Ndlovu pulled a shocker Thursday and announced that the suspended teachers were barred from interfering with investigations into their alleged misconduct.
“Appropriate action will be taken against members who abrogate their duties and responsibilities. The ministry remains committed to the provision of quality, affordable, accessible, relevant, equitable, inclusive and wholesome education for all Zimbabweans,” she said.
Reacting to news of teachers’ suspension, Zimbabwe National Union of School Heads secretary-general Munyaradzi Majoni said last night the suspension was unjustified.
“(This is sad that it’s happening) despite the government being given notices of incapacitation, which is one legal requirement. Government also knows that it cannot suspend somebody, even if things were normal, from service for absconding from work for two to three days. That is impossible, that is a legal nullity,” Majoni said.
Majoni representatives from the ministry who were sent to monitor attendance, faced massive resistance from heads present.
Teachers unions say their suspension is invalid and insensitive as they have been surviving through their own hustles and giving our all to the learners.
“Teachers have been reduced to paupers, they are living in poverty. Teachers can´t even afford to pay school fees in the schools where they ordinarily teach,” Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ).
“They need almost eight months of their salaries to pay for school fees alone. Teachers are fasting to send a child to school.
“We have also suspended all government officials from making decisions for public schools. Their suspension is invalid because we have been suspended from public services for five years, we have been surviving through our own hustles and giving our all to our learners.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Ptuz) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said the suspension of striking teachers meant that schools had closed.
“135 000 of the 150 000 teachers have been suspended by government. We know only 10% of the teaching force were turning up for duty. Effectively, schools have closed again. Sad parents had paid huge amounts for fees,” he tweeted.
“We also call on all parents to stop sending children to school until the government starts respecting public education,” he added.
Zimbabwe has about 140,000 government school teachers for 4.6 million students.
The teachers’ demand for higher pay comes as many other Zimbabweans struggle with widespread poverty. After years of economic decline and the collapse of many businesses offering formal employment, more than 60% of Zimbabwe’s 15 million people survive by selling goods on the streets, offering services from their homes or are otherwise self-employed, according to the International Monetary Fund.
More than half the population lives in extreme poverty exacerbated by COVID-19, according to a joint survey by the government, the World Bank and the United Nations children’s agency.
Many grocery shops and services – such as electricity and water which must be purchased privately — demand payment in U.S dollars. To pay for such necessities, civil servants such as teachers have to buy the greenbacks at exorbitant prices from illegal traders due to a shortage of hard currency in banks.
The latest disruption is worsening the situation of children, especially ones from poor families already devastated by the pandemic.