Teachers in Zimbabwe were set on Tuesday to go on strike, heeding a call by unions to stop reporting for work due to low salaries and poor working conditions.
The teachers are demanding a salary increase of $1,733 for the lowest paid teacher, or the equivalent in US dollars, and an adjustment in the cost of living allowances. Currently, the lowest paid teacher earns a gross salary of $500.
There was little activity at most schools on Monday as teachers waited for a signal from union leaders, who claimed state security agents were on the prowl to disrupt the strike after unions representing other civil servant groups allegedly developed cold feet.
Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), told TimesLIVE that a fully fledged strike was planned for Tuesday after a false start on Monday following threats and intimidation by state security agents who allegedly harassed teachers and other supporting staff in public schools.
'The strike is on tomorrow (today)," said Zhou. "Following the joint declaration of strike by Ptuz and Zimta [the Zimbabwe Teachers Association] other unions that initially opposed the strike have all added their weight behind the strike. The modus operandi is a stay-away from schools.
'Police, war veterans, Zanu-PF youths and supporters have been on a war path today [Monday], demonstrating in schools against teachers, threatening teachers and even taking some teachers for interrogation ... But this will not prevent us from our orgainised industrial action."
Sifiso Ndlovu, the chief executive officer of Zimta, the largest teachers' trade union, chipped in, saying teachers would withdraw their services.
"We are swelling it with readiness," said Ndlovu, adding that all teachers union were in sync with forging ahead with the industrial action.
Obert Mataruse, the president of the Almagamated Rural Teachers Union, said his organisation's members supported the strike, and would not report for work on Tuesday. Mataruse spent 16 days in jail after being arrested for allegedly attempting to overthrow a constitutionally-elected government following last month's violent stay away. He was released on Friday.
"The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe welcomes all sister teacher unions for finally coming on board on the ongoing job action for a living wage. We reiterate our call for salaries in United States dollars. We encourage all teachers to take heed of the ongoing job action as we demand a comprehensive Conditions of Living Adjustment," said Mataruse.
Teachers’ basic salaries were last reviewed in 2012 and by then the salaries were negotiated in US dollars. The cost of living has since soared, with prices of basic services and commodities increasing at a cumulative rate of over 500%. The government has also reneged on the agreement to pay salaries in US dollars, and are now paying in the Real Time Gross Settlement terms. The surrogate currency is performing badly on the market and this has heavily eroded the value of salaries.
The average teacher earns around US$120 per month.
"The union encourages all teachers to continue withdrawing their labor. The Union’s decision-making body will meet on Saturday 9 February 2019 to evaluate the job action. The meeting will come up with other tactics aimed at compelling our employer to award a COLA [cost of living adjustment], said Mataruse.
"We encourage un-unionised teachers to seize this opportunity and join the Union of the moment so that we speak with one voice. Our Union is providing legal cover to all teachers who will be victimized during this job action. We urge teachers to promptly report victimization to the details captured at the foot of this statement."