Zimbabwe's teachers’ unions have rejected a more than 100 % salary increase awarded to them as part of the government’s efforts to re-open schools. The teachers say a promised new salary of about $180 per month is still below the poverty line of about $540. Learners are spending time alone in classrooms as teachers do informal work.
At a government primary school in Harare, students were playing outside their classrooms without supervision. Teachers have refused to implement Zimbabwe’s reopening of schools after closing in March due to the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, the government announced a new monthly salary of about $180 for teachers.
Tkavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said it was “a high sounding nothing” which was unilaterally awarded to them.
“What workers want is a holistic salary increase that resonates with salaries they were earning in 2018 — salaries that are around $520- to $550 U.S. dollars. So as of now the salaries would not allow teachers to educate their own children and to ensure that they do all their responsibilities as families. So, teachers remain incapacitated,” said Zhou.
“Incapacitated” is a euphemism for Zimbabwe’s teachers saying their salary is not enough for their basic needs.
Amon Murwira, Zimbabwe's minister of higher education, says the new salary is what the government can afford and hopes teachers return to work soon.
"The government is very sensitive to the plight of the teachers. But it’s sensitive to the plight of all Zimbabweans for that matter, including the students... At the current moment, teachers have been given a 10% risk allowance and we expect that this gesture which the government is doing is showing sincerity towards improvement of the livelihoods of its employees. And we also expect that there is a positive response in terms of responsibility because these [learners] are our children and we can never use them as pawns in a game of chess."
Munyaradzi Masiyiwa, 33, is a high school science teacher and member of Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. He says he makes more money selling brooms in the streets than teaching.
“I cannot afford to have food at the table, food that lasts one money. So, this is just an insult to the teaching fraternity... We are still appealing to the government to take this issue with the urgency it deserves, right now, not tomorrow. If we have a government of the people in Zimbabwe, surely they must take action,” he said.
Besides a salary of at least $500 per month, the teachers want sufficient personal protective equipment, or PPE, like masks, face shields and hand sanitizer to protect themselves against the coronavirus.
The government says it has procured $6 million worth of such equipment for schools.
The government has also threatened to replace defiant teachers. But so far, nothing has enticed the teachers back to leading classes.