By Martin Muleya
MUTARE- The Speaker of Parliament has urged Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Education to negotiate non-salary benefits as a way to break the current impasse on better working conditions that has seen teachers and Government entangled in a collision course.
Teachers downed tools early last year citing incapacitation as their salaries are being eroded by the high cost of living, with their parent Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education pleading with them to return to classrooms and resume lessons with students. But teachers through their respective Unions have refused to bow to the pressure until government addresses their working conditions among other issues.
Speaker of Parliament Jacob Mudenda while officially opening joint meeting on Select Committees on primary and Secondary Education, and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, implored the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education to urgently address the welfare of teachers for them to perform at the highest qualitative application to duty.
“Teacher incapacitation remains fundamental at this moment in time. Low teacher morale is the elephant in the room and must be confronted tenaciously if we are to achieve sustainable quality education through devoted cadres.
“I understand that Parliament received a Petition from the Teacher Unions concerning the erosion of their salaries as a result of de-dolarisation coupled with inflationary pressures that have impacted on the economy. While you inquire and deliberate on the Petition, I propose that you also discuss non-salary benefits such as school fees waiver for their children in government schools, provision of loans or mortgage loans, tablets and computers”, implored Mudenda.
He appealed to the teaching fraternity to negotiate for better conditions of service in good faith with Government and not under the threat of industrial action.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) Programmes Officer Ladistous Zunde sang from a different hymn book insisting that the so-called proposals (of school fees waivering for teachers with children learning at government schools, provision of loans, tablets and computers), to boost low morale among teachers was just a dummy meant to hoodwink teachers to return to classrooms without their grievances addressed to their satisfaction.
“These are just proposals we are quite aware will not see the light of day. We have talked a lot about so many things particularly to do with non-monetary incentives over the years but nothing has materialised up to this day.
So this is part of their (Government) strategy to pacify the grumbling teachers. It is part of their strategy to lure teachers to go to school, ” fumed Zunde.
He reiterated that the education system was fraught with for as long as teachers are incapacitated they will continuing sinking their heads in the sink.
“The pay increases should have been effected in 2018 and up to now they have not started. The way forward for teachers is to capacitate them to raise their morale by giving them what is enough to come to school.
“You are given $14 000 or $15 000 rtgs what is that? The employer must not budget for me. I must earn money that will enable me to function in every aspect,” vowed Zunde.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association Chief Executive Officer Dr. Sifiso Ndlovu also concurred with PTUZ stance emphasising that the issue of non-monetary benefits has been on the cards for a long time and not yielding any results.
“It is a promise that is renewed and most of the time it normally comes when we are discussing new salaries for any given year. This to us is not a new discussion. Out of all the promises we have had none of them had been sustained long enough to benefit all civil servants in particular teachers.
“Each year we talk about them we don’t see sufficient resources being put to support them.
“Our position is we will continue pushing for non-monetary benefits and why we are here is to promote dialogue as of practical solution.
If the dialogue process fails then we talk of conflict,” said Dr. Ndlovu.
Dr. Ndlovu underscored that the issue of non monetary benefits should not be misconstrued to mean that teacher salaries should not be increased.
“These are over and above salary issue. The issue of non-monetary benefits is meant to substitute the salary.
“The issue of salaries is not dependent on non-monetary benefits. The coming of non-monetary benefits is to reduce the pressure on the salary we get from government.
“So they are not meant to substitute the salary. If anybody believes they are a substitution of salary they are on the wrong platform.
“Salaries should be on its own and benefits on its own talking to the needs of the individual as detected by the breadbasket. Non monetary benefits should augment the salary so it is an addition,” added the Zimta boss.
Mudenda also alluded to the Nziramasanga Commission of Inquiry sanctioned by the late President Robert Mugabe that endevoured to address problems that were affecting the education sector prior to 1998.
He bemoaned that the recommendations made by the Commission in 1999, had they been implemented timeously, the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education would not have found itself in this deadlock with teachers.
Mudenda had no kind words for Parliament s he squarely blamed the legislators for failing to address the Petition on teachers that was brought to the August house in June 2019 as a result of the exigencies of the Covid 19,and demanded that the sensitization meeting in Mutare must have a conclusion reached as a matter of urgency.
The two day joint workshop is meant incisively analyse government policy in the education sector particularly in addressing the welfare of teachers and learners.