Editorial Comment – Teachers: Govt responding to state of the economy

Government’s decision to scrap vacation leave for teachers must have caused a lot of consternation among teachers but makes economic sense in addition to aligning policy to what obtains in the region.

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira explained on Friday last week that teachers went on vacation leave for three months during which period Government was obliged to engage relief teachers on full salary and benefits. That amounts to paying two teachers for the same job, but one of them not in fact at work. It doesn’t make economic sense.

Minister Mupfumira explained the system was used during the colonial era to allow for the movement of expatriate teachers back to their countries and back. But at that time only a few such teachers needed to be relieved at a time. Things have since dramatically changed with the phenomenal expansion of the education sector since In- dependence.

Reports indicate that almost 2 000 teachers were supposed to take vacation leave this term, but have since been recalled. This is a mammoth figure, which also has an impact on the pupils themselves who must start with a relief teacher only to have another one coming in next term.

But there are also other considerations revealed by a recent audit of the teaching establishment. It was noted during the head count that there were teachers who were receiving salaries when they had long left the civil service. In some cases, teachers who had joined the private sector were still getting a second pay cheque from Govern- ment.

Government is in the process of rationalising the civil service. It is only fair that those employed by the Civil Service Commission are found at their station to avoid the inconvenience of being assumed to have left and being struck off the payroll, only to be forced to reapply later.

Overall, the Cabinet-approved audit revealed that there were 5 588 teachers over and above the authorised establishment, constituting a large percentage of Government’s salary expenditure.

As expected, teachers’ representatives have protested against Government’s decision to cancel vacation leave for teachers saying it is a violation of their members’ rights.

The one valid point they can raise is that this has become a custom and teachers took their vacation leave as a form of entitlement, which in practice might not be the case.

Furthermore, what is missed is the anomaly where a teacher who goes on vacation leave must be replaced temporarily by a relief teacher on full pay and benefits, meaning an extra burden on Government finances.

That is not the case with other branches of the civil service where those who go on vacation are not replaced. There is need to standardise those leave conditions across the civil service.

The minister also noted that Zimbabwe was the only country in the region where a teacher was allowed to take vacation leave for a full term at a time. She said other countries in the region had long done away with such a system.

We can safely guess that it was deemed uneconomic in those countries which scrapped it earlier. There is no sensible reason why Zimbabwe should be the odd one out when its economic condition is so parlous.

We believe these are the factors teachers’ representative bodies should take into account even as they seek to advance the interests of their members. In any case, Government has assured the teachers that the system might be restored when finances permit. The route of confrontation serves only to sour relations between the employer and employee, in which the learners come out innocent victims.

This should be avoided at all costs.

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