Zimbabwe: teachers strike over pay as currency crisis deepens

As talks with the government failed to reach an agreement, Zimbabwean teachers are striking to press their government to pay their salaries with U.S. dollars.

Workers, including educators, affected by sinking national financial system

Cash shortages have plunged Zimbabwe’s financial system into disarray, threatening social unrest and undermining President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s efforts to attract foreign investors. With not enough hard currency to back up funds credited in bank accounts, the value of electronic money has plummeted. This has caused businesses and civil servants to demand payment in U.S. dollars; funds that they can withdraw.

The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (ZIMTA), an Education International affiliate said its members would strike as spiralling inflation has left them unable to buy basic goods and fuel that are in short supply - Zimbabwe is struggling with acute shortages of fuel, forcing drivers to queue for hours.

ZIMTA President Richard Gundani explained that, while a meeting was held on 7 January between public sector unions and acting Labour Minister July Moyo (most teachers are employed by the government),  no viable solutions were submitted by the government. The only agreement at the meeting was to re-start talks. Teachers would not report for work from 8 January.

Stressing that “all unions agreed that workers are affected and we provided sufficient justification that they are unable to work,” he went on insisting that ZIMTA and other unions had issued a 14-day notice to the government of their intention to strike.

According to ZIMTA National General Secretary Tapson Nganunu Sibanda, “following months of extended negotiations and discussions with the government, which have led to no gain for underpaid Zimbabwean teachers, unions in Zimbabwe, and ZIMTA in particular, have declared incapacitation; teachers being unable to tend to their normal teaching jobs as regularly as before, beginning this Tuesday, 8 January 2019”.

ZIMTA: ever decreasing teachers’ living conditions and educational quality

An overwhelming majority the teachers in Zimbabwe have answered this call and did not report to work, he underlined.

Trade union demands submitted to the government are:

  • Payment of teachers in foreign currency, or equivalent bond-rated salaries, due to the fact that the Zimbabwe currency, known as the bond, loses value almost daily. The bond is the local currency officially considered to be equivalent to the US dollar, but it currently has lost its value.
  • Restoration of the teacher’s bonuses and allowances withdrawn in 2018.

Education International stands in solidarity with ZIMTA and Zimbabwean educators seeking to push  their government to quickly act to improve teachers’ conditions of service.

“Failure to do so will further drive teachers into abject poverty, while fuelling the deterioration of quality teaching and learning in Zimbabwean schools,” warned Sibanda.

PTUZ: need for appropriate and quick salary raise

On 7 January, “we presented our demands to the government, which include the payment of our salaries in USD, and the adjustment of our salaries to reflect new economic realities,” according to echoed Progressive Teachers Union Zimbabwe (PTUZ) General Secretary Raymond Majongwe.

He also deplored that “instead of addressing our concerns, the government offered nothing except for a new meeting in the near future, in order to discuss the adjustment. The government’s old story that it cannot pay in USD, and that it is implementing austerity for the sake of future generations does nothing to alleviate our most urgent concerns leading to incapacitation.”

Meantime, he reported, PTUZ members checked in at work on 8 January, but from then on they will be working for only two days a week.

“In the event that the government does not grant an appropriate and quick salary raise before the 14-day notice expires, all 16 governmental worker associations/unions resolved to declare a full-scale strike,” he continued.

Majongwe concluded by commending the unity demonstrated by unions before and after the meeting with the Zimbabwean government, and hoped “our members will show the same unity”.

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