Stanely Mushava : Features Correspondent
Teachers’ representatives are on a warpath with Government over concerns that parent ministries are offsetting their obligations to civil servants with unilateral austerity directives. The representatives complain that the employer is riding roughshod over their entitlement to consultation and due process with sweeping policy changes.Government recently found itself on the defensive when it suspended vacation leave for teachers, citing incapacity to pay relief teachers in the absence of regular staff.
The Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education immediately followed up the austerity measure by recalling 2 000 teachers who were supposed to be on leave this term.
The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta) has since contested the matter at the Labour Court, citing violation of teachers’ labour rights.
Teachers’ unions which are not part to the proceedings lament the implementation of top-down directives oblivious of representative bodies which can bring the teachers’ voice to round-table deliberations if consulted.
Earlier this year, Government withheld new contracts from over 3000 teachers, acting on Civil Service Audit report findings that there were 5 588 more teachers than the authorised establishment.
The decision was accompanied by several cost-cutting measures including salary cuts for teachers whose classes fail to make the grade and reduced allowances for student teachers.
With the vacation leave directive, Government is looking to increase the number of years mandatory for a teacher to be eligible for leave, up from the original stipulation of seven years.
The ministry dispatched a circular to schools across the country warning that the Civil Service Commission (CSC) Inspectorate would go around schools to ensure compliance with the order for teachers on leave to return to work.
Teachers’ representatives say the decision was not preceded by consultation or furnished to them with backing reasons.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira, however, maintained that relief teachers bring about a financial burden Government cannot bear.
“Whenever a teacher goes on vacation leave, a relief teacher has to be engaged with full salary and allowances for the duration of the vacation leave, which is an added cost to the fiscus,” Minister Mupfumira said in a previous interview with The Herald.
The minister said a review of the situation whereby Government paid both regular staff on leave and relief teachers full salaries and allowances was inevitable as it was costly.
According to Minister Mupfumira, Government was due to pay $2,565 million over the first term during the three months teachers would be on leave. Government has since cut down the cost with the directive.
“It is worth noting that after a comparative study of similar situations in the region, it was established that other countries had scrapped such vacation leave completely and teachers now go on vacation leave just like any other civil servant,” Minister Mupfumira said.
“This policy position should not be taken as denial for leave but an adjustment that will enable the education sector as a whole to continue enjoying the benefit in a manner that is sustainable,” she said.
Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe chief executive officer Manuel Nyawo said teachers were not happy with the unilateral revocation of their right.
“This decision contravenes teachers’ constitutional right and discriminates them by robbing them of a right enjoyed by any other profession,” Nyawo said.
“This is uncalled for and sends the wrong message on Government’s attitude towards this key constituency,” he said.
“What would have been procedural was for Government to pursue the scrapping of the provisions Labour Act on workers’ entitlement to leave instead of unilaterally imposing this provision.
“Any change of this nature is expected to be intra-vires Zimbabwe’s Constitution. Yet we would not expect Government to repeal provisions and pursue changes against the interest of its workers.
“As it is, we wonder whether it is this development only or more is in store for workers. Our conviction is that Government must always maintain its obligation to its workers whatever the circumstances,” Nyawo said.
Nyawo said Government’s argument that teachers go on holiday unlike other professions did not take into account the preparatory work teachers are tasked with over school holidays.
“Teachers do not go on holiday in the sense of entirely closing their books and resuming the next time. Rather, that is the time they need to research, plan and scheme.
“During the term, teachers work day and night, often marking and planning the next day during the night so it would be unfair to claim that they have a relatively lax schedule,” he said.
Nyawo said it was within Government’s responsibility to solicit teachers’ views for measures affecting them and to maintain a round-table rather than a top-down approach.
He said there were several unions to pick from so that if Government acknowledged their role before entering changes into force legal battles could be forestalled by dialogue.
“The directive does not just affect regular staff. Unemployed youths who had signed up for relief teaching posts suddenly found themselves out of employment. Obviously, no one needs to be convinced that this is an unfair labour practice,” Nyawo said.
“Government must rethink the current control mechanism and pursue consensus because the current processes can only foment unnecessary discord among partners designed to work together,” he said.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou said rationalisation exercises must not be seen to exclusively affect teachers.
He said teachers were entitled to rejuvenation just like civil servants because of the immensity of their service to the country.
“Much of teachers’ supposedly free time goes into marking and holidays are time to scheme for the next term so teachers cannot be denied vacation leave on that premise.
“We are not convinced that a baseline survey was conducted to assess the viability of this directive,” he said.
He said teachers were working under tough conditions and did not need new problems.
“A profession of this magnitude requires that workers be acknowledged and their views be solicited. They are in sensitive roles and must not be demoralised,” Zhou added.
“Education is one of the pillar sectors of this country and is widely acknowledged as such. Teachers are already working under difficult conditions to achieve such a status and do not need new problems,” he said.
Teachers accrue one day for every 20 days worked and 18 days for every year, as such they need seven years to accrue 126 days.
The rest of the civil servants accrue one day for every 12 days worked, including weekends, meaning they accrue 30 days for each year worked.
And now to break down the major question: What should take precedence; teacher’s rights or Government means?
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