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Teacher unions adding salt to wound

In the immediate post-independence period, teachers were revered as their earnings and working conditions were the envy of many.

TENDAI MAKARIPE TEACHER representative unions are failing to improve the deplorable plight of government teachers in the country, analysts have said.

In the immediate post-independence period, teachers were revered as their earnings and working conditions were the envy of many.

However, a few decades into independence, teachers’ salaries were eroded by marauding inflation as the country buckled under pressure from serious economic shocks.

This gave rise to a number of teacher representative unions who among other things pledged to improve the welfare of members but since the turn of the millennium, teachers have become a laughing stock.

Analysts who spoke to the Zimbabwe Independent noted that for years, teacher representative unions have done little in pursuance of their goals, adding that they appear to be motivated more by financial gain at the expense of teachers’ welfare.

This week, teacher representative unions said schools will not be opened on the scheduled date unless their demands are met.

“We can confirm that schools will open on US$540, not September 6 2022. We have tried to be patient, but the government takes us for fools. We are the only ones whose sectoral allowances have been ignored totally. We shall see,” the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) said on its official Twitter page.

However, analysts accused the unions and associations of issuing tired threats at the beginning of every term and not following them up with meaningful action.

“Teacher representatives are not doing enough in terms of representing their wider membership. In my view, they are not negotiating in good faith,” analyst Lazarus Sauti said.

“They are insincere in their negotiations and this is the reason why teachers are still living in abject poverty while their representatives are driving the latest Sports Utility Vehicles.

“Calling for strikes is not the panacea. The government should just improve the plight of teachers. They should improve their remuneration. This will go a long way in motivating teachers,” he added.

A recent study titled “Unionism and the Education Sector in Zimbabwe (1980 to 2015)” by academic Edwin Mhizha revealed that 80% of the study’s respondents pointed to no proper representation of employees by trade unions.

“Nothing tangible and meaningful has been done through unionism from the year 2000 onwards. Trade unions have succeeded more in mobilising funds and resources for the enrichment of top leadership, buying top-class vehicles and hefty salaries for union leadership,” read Mhizha’s study in part.

Research has shown that some teachers are disgruntled to the extent of withdrawing membership from the unions and associations.

A Harare-based teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “Token effort is being put by these associations and unions to pressure the government to increase salaries earned by teachers and other civil servants.

“This has demotivated civil servants resulting in poor service delivery and massive exodus of employees to neighbouring countries for greener pastures.”

Teachers are earning around ZW$30 000-ZW$40 000, which fetches around US$40 on the parallel market.

Responding to statements that unionism has lost value, PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said this has always been the allegation.

“There is nothing new. It has always been the allegation. They are trying to create fertile ground for Teachers 4 ED. People who are not teachers are the ones speaking,” Majongwe said.

“There is a clear agenda to destroy unions by fomenting dissent and disillusionment. How do you blame unions for poor salaries? It’s all nonsense.”

The union’s president Takafira Zhou weighed in saying union leaders do not benefit from unionism.

“The allegations are madness of the worst order. I have not benefited from trade unionism and have offered my best service and self-sacrifice,” he said.

“There is a difference between peddled truth and reality. There is government concerted effort to decimate trade unionism and those who lack critical thinking may assume trade unionism is a challenge when in reality Zanufication is the challenge and responsible for creating some unions like Teachers 4 ED,” Zhou said.

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