Government in Zimbabwe has moved to stave off another crippling strike by awarding teachers an immediate 1000 percent pay rise.
With schools set to open in a few days, a strike by teachers looked likely given the country’s galloping inflation. In November last year teachers served notice they would strike if their salaries were not reviewed – an no wonder. At present, the lowest paid teacher is taking home a paltry Z$15 million, enough just to buy seven loaves of the cheapest quality bread! With a government infested with corruption and seemingly incapable of managing the economy, Zimbabwe is in the midst of an unprecedented economic disaster. The official inflation level is 24,000 percent, but independent analysts say in reality it is over 100,000 percent. The banking system does not have enough cash to service the population, leading to massive queues outside banks. Water and electricity shortages are commonplace. Add political repression to the mix and you have a recipe for the creation of political and economic refugees. The two major teacher unions in the country are the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA), an EI member, and the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) which has applied for EI membership. Both unions were heading for a showdown with government over their demands for better wages. Under the new pay structure, a junior teacher will earn a gross salary of Z$260 million. This is broken down into a Z$150 million basic, Z$78 million transport allowance and Z$30 million in housing allowances. Senior teachers will earn in the region of Z$330 million. Additionally, transport and housing allowances will be exempt from tax. The PTUZ says the government should pay teachers salaries of Z$526 million a month including allowances. In a circular to its members, PTUZ secretary general Raymond Majongwe said the ever-increasing cost of living in Zimbabwe had forced the union to drastically revise its salary demands upwards. He maintained that the increases would do little to protect teachers from the harsh reality of a hyperinflationary environment. A series of strikes last year got their salaries raised to Z$15 million but within weeks that figure actually made them far worse off. The new offer of a 1000 percent pay hike is almost exactly what the unions had demanded. The problem is, from the time the demands were made in November up to now, prices of basic commodities and services have gone up massively. Jacob Rukweza, a teacher in the capital, says they have been advised they will receive half of the new salaries this week while the other half will be paid at the end of the month. Most teachers are waiting to see if the promised increases will be paid into their accounts or not. The country has been rocked by several strikes in the past few months. Doctors, nurses, magistrates and other court staff are on strike over poor wages. Although government has tabled offers in the region of 600 percent, these have so far been turned down. Even though some doctors and nurses have gone back to work on humanitarian grounds, their unions insist the majority are on strike and continue to negotiate with government for better deals. In the meantime, Education Minister Aeneas Chigwedere warned teachers not to hold the government to ransom adding that the government would “deal with militants” who wanted to incite teachers to strike. “As the government, we have our workers at heart but people should not make outrageous demands. We are looking into the (salary) awards for teachers for 2008 and I am sure they will be happy,” said Chigwedere. However, the PTUZ estimates that in 2007, over 25,000 teachers quit their jobs and left the country for menial jobs mostly in South Africa, Zimbabwe’s prosperous southern neighbour, while others have gone to Britain and Australia. The trend looks set to continue. Prepared with files from Patricia Mpofu and Lance Guma.
This article was published in Worlds of Education, Issue 25, February/March 2008.