THE prevailing discord among teacher representative unions regarding the newly gazetted government salary structure for public servants is a testament of their inability to force the state to address their concerns, analysts have said.
Teachers and headmasters declared incapacitation when schools opened a fortnight ago, a move that resulted in government schools failing to open doors to students.
This triggered an outcry from parents who felt the government was not doing enough to ensure children’s right to education.
According to General Comment 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the state has an obligation to ensure that education is accessible, acceptable, adaptable, and available to those entitled to it.
Section 81 (1) (f) provides that: “Every child, that is to say, every boy and girl under the age of 18 years, has the right to education.” In an attempt to quell the situation, the government announced a salary package for civil servants that triggered a 20% increase in the Zimbabwean dollar salary component backdated to January 1, 2022, and US$100 per month in hard currency effective March 1, 2022.
While some teacher representative unions like the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) and others welcomed the government’s new salary structure, others rejected it arguing that it was a far cry from the US$540 they used to earn.
“In reference to our position statement which we made on February 1, 2022, it is clear that very little has changed in terms of the demands we made, as members are still incapacitated and therefore unable to report for duty,” the Federation of Zimbabwe Educators’ Union (Fozeu) said in a statement.
“We are still miles off the US$540 which we demand to be restored. We call on the government to further revise its offer to civil servants as a matter of urgency, and the improved offer should take effect from January 2022.”
The Fozeu comprises the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe and Educators Union of Zimbabwe.
Analysts who opened up to the Independent said the teachers’ plight in Zimbabwe will never improve as long as they continue to sing from different hymn books.
“It is sad that when they launched an impressive campaign to have their issues addressed, some unions, in their wisdom or lack of it, decided to sell the struggle. I feel their plight will continue to worsen because of the discord prevalent among them,” analyst Jethro Makumbe said.
Former Headmaster Blessing Chinowaita said teachers have a lot to learn from members of the health profession.
“I was a headmaster in several rural schools and I know the challenges associated with working in that environment. It is unfortunate that these unions are not being sincere,” he said.
“If they had their members at heart, they would swallow their pride and rally members like what nurses and doctors do. When they call for a strike, they ensure that everyone participates. Demand for better salaries will never be effective for as long as some unions do not participate,” Chinowaita added.
Observers also pointed out the government’s invisible hand in stoking up a cacophony among teacher representative unions in a bid to neutralise them.
In his book, The Changing Role of Civil Society in Zimbabwe’s Democratic Processes: 2014 and Beyond, academic Eldred Masunungure notes how the Robert Mugabe administration introduced state-sponsored Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) that acted as rivals and counter-weights to existing civil society organisations deemed to be anti-regime or pro-opposition.
For example, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZCTU) was in 1998 created as a rival to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union.
It accused ZCTU of abandoning workers and having a political agenda after it organised crippling strikes and stay-aways in 1997 and 1998. This move by the government brought about a change in the civil society playfield as it divided attention and neutralised third-generation civil society organisations that were in existence.
“We have a group of teacher unions appointed by the government in parastatals and have abandoned teacher representation for personal emoluments,” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takafira Zhou said.
“Some of these were conveniently created to cause confusion among teachers and only sprouted into action when there was talk of industrial action. Unions are built around objectives of advancing the interests of a group and defending gains made. The members must decide the direction and actual path or trajectory of a Union.
“Leaders must not be masters but servants of teachers who stir the ship to teachers’ desired destiny,” he added.
It remains to be seen whether the teachers’ unions will engage in collective action or continue fighting from different corners.