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Government has lost moral authority due to slave wages

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GOVERNMENT last week issued a stern “no work, no pay” warning against striking teachers as the showdown between the employer and employee takes centre stage.

Teachers, the majority of whom are getting a paltry salary of ZW$21 000, far below the current poverty datum line (PDL) of ZW$70 000, are demanding at least US$540 per month, as per the pre-October 2018 salaries.

The government says it cannot afford that amount and has labelled outspoken union leaders as opposition activists pushing a foreign agenda. Rural teachers have borne the brunt of poor salaries and deteriorating livelihood.

Through the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), they have vowed not to return to work until the salary issue is addressed, rubbishing the US$100 incentive introduced for civil servants across the board as worthless.

The NewsHawks reporter, Nyasha Chingono (NC), spoke to the Artuz, president Obert Masaraure (OM) and below are the excerpts:

NC: Schools opened for the first term of 2022 on 7 February, but teachers declared “incapacitation” and vowed not to report for duty. What is your grievance against the employer?

OM: The employer slashed our salaries from US$540 to the current US$100 through currency reforms. The salary slash pushed the teachers deep into poverty. The Poverty Datum Line is currently above ZW$73 000 while teachers earn as little as ZW$18 000.

Teachers cannot afford accommodation, food, transportation or even school fees for their own children. The salary crisis is further worsened by the absence of a structured inclusive dialoguing platform with the employer.

The employer decimated the National Joint Negotiating Council through imposing workers’ representatives for public sector workers.

The government is also failing to align labour laws to provide for collective bargaining as envisaged in section 65 of the constitution. The absence of collective bargaining space leads to perennial unresolved conflict.

NC: On average, a teacher at public schools earns the equivalent of US$85, an amount described as an insult by the unions. Has the Zanu PF government lost the moral authority in championing workers’ rights?

OM: The policy attitude of the government is informed by its neo-liberalism ideology. The government is in the mode of cutting expenditure on public services, including education.

The austerity measures imposed by the Treasury also means cutting on salaries for the workers. This government is therefore a puppet of global capital and completely disregards the rights of workers under the “ease of doing business” mantra.

The current government has dumped the ideals of the liberation struggle and has become a poodle of global capital.

This government no longer has the moral authority of claiming to be for the workers. The US$85 is a mockery to the working class and is an incentive for launching a sustained campaign against austerity.

NC: The authorities are threatening to invoke the so-called “no work, no pay” sanction on striking teachers. Surely, your members are cornered and have no choice but to report for duty?

OM: It is the government that is cornered, they no longer have any sanctions at their disposal. You can’t threaten workers you have not been paying for five years without paying them.

 It is the workers’ side which is now declaring “No pay, no work”. Teachers will no longer render their services for free, they are demanding the restoration of their pre-October 2018 salaries.

NC: The government says school heads must compile reports on teachers who boycott work, but many school heads have joined the teachers in declaring incapacitation. Is it correct to say the school heads are equally frustrated by low pay?

OM: School heads are also teachers; they endure the same challenges faced by teachers. Only corrupt school heads who are swindling funds from schools are insulated from the crisis.

School heads who are in schools (and have not joined the job action) should be investigated by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission.

NC: Some senior government officials claim that teachers are influenced by wayward opposition politics. What exactly are teachers fighting for?

OM: Teachers are educated conscious adults who do not need opposition leaders to tell them that they are being exploited.

People should never make the mistake of viewing teachers as idiots who need a third party to think for them. Teachers are aware of their rights and welcome all allies who subscribe to the agenda of demanding a living wage for teachers as a way to save our education from collapse.

NC: Teachers say they want dialogue. The government also says it wants dialogue. So where is the problem?

OM:  If the government wanted dialogue, they should have legislated it way back, dismantling NJNC (National Joint Negotiating Council) and enacting a genuine collective bargaining platform. We will force the government to dialogue outside the confines of the law.

NC: The Reserve Bank has set ZW$25 000 as the maximum daily withdrawal limit while, in comparison, teachers are paid a ZW$21 000 monthly salary. Although the authorities concede that inflation has shot through the roof, they are still refusing to pay a living wage. What is your take on this?

OM: The only way to insulate teacher salaries from inflation is to bench[1]mark it in the stable United States dollar currency in line with provisions of Statutory Instrument 185 of 2020. It is mandatory for everyone who sells goods and services to have a dual pricing regime. We have put the US dollar price of our labour at US$540.

NC: Teachers currently earn the equivalent of US$85, and they are clamouring for US$540. Is this a reasonable demand?

OM: US$540 was negotiated at the bipartisan engagement of workers and employers. The slashing of the salary through currency reforms was arbitrary and unilaterally done by the employer. The move was illegal. We are pushing for the reversal of the il[1]legality.

 NC: Teachers’ remuneration is not the only burning issue in the education sector. School fees are generally unaffordable. Is Zimbabwean education now meant solely for the rich?

OM: Zimbabwe’s education is now a preserve of the elites. The sons and daughters of those who make decisions for education do not learn in our public schools.

In a country where 50% of the people live in poverty, only the government has the capacity to pay for education. Section 75 of the constitution mandates the government to fund basic education.

NC: Why have teachers tolerated salaries described as “slave wages” for so long? Is it a question of desperation to survive or the fear of victimisation?

OM: Teachers are patriots who are giving their all for their country. They have however realised that the government is not sincere.

National wealth is being squandered on elite luxuries at the expense of welfare of teachers and all social services. The fresh push is aimed at reconfiguring the national priority list. “People over capital” is the thrust of this campaign.

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