HARARE – Teachers commemorate World Teachers Day today amidst poverty and poor working conditions which have resulted in a series of wild strikes.
Unions say there is nothing to celebrate this year as government remains insensitive to their plight concerning low remuneration and poor working conditions.
Zimbabwe has about 90 000 teachers, who constitute the bulk of civil servants.
The commemorations come at a time when cracks between teachers’ unions remain unhealed thereby weakening their bargaining power.
The main teachers representative groups, Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) and Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), are commemorating the day at different venues.
PTUZ represents about 15 000 teachers while Zimta accounts for about 45 000 members.
The rest are represented by breakaway unions.
Raymond Majongwe, the PTUZ secretary-general, said government was thankless for the job done by public school teachers, most who wallow in poverty or are forced to engage in vending sweets to schoolchildren to make ends meet.
Many in the profession have turned to vending during lesson time and cross-border trading to sustain their families.
“Their insensitivity is clear proof that they do not realise our significance in the economy,” said Majongwe.
“They continuously rubbish our demands and are always suppressing our strikes. Really, there is nothing to celebrate as far as this profession is concerned,” Majongwe said.
The fiery trade unionist expressed dismay that most of the strike actions had failed to gather momentum.
“As teachers we must take a cue from the strikes happening in South Africa.
“Miners and truck drivers are demanding 12 500 South African Rand, equivalent to $1 200, yet here as qualified professionals we are getting only $300,”said Majongwe.
Teachers have in the past threatened government with strikes, but these have largely failed due to fatigue.
Many teachers also ignore the strike calls fearing they would lose incentives paid by parents to teachers in classrooms.
Teachers earn an average salary of about $300, resulting in the trade unions advocating that School Development Associations top up teachers’ salaries with incentives.
Their salaries fall below the poverty datum line pegged at $500.
And government does not seem to be in a hurry to fix the problem.
Negotiations for bonuses and salary increments for civil servants have been stopped after government ordered the worker representative unions Apex Council to resolve leadership squabbles rocking the body first.
The plight of teachers has been aggravated by the split in the Apex Council, which represents civil servants being headed by two factions one by College Lecturers Association of Zimbabwe president David Dzatsunga, and the other by Cecilia Alexander.
Alexander leads the Public Service Association which represents most government workers not in the education sector.
Public Service minister Lucia Matibenga was last week quoted as saying she can only deal with a united front.
Meanwhile, Zimta public relations officer Daisy Zambuko said despite the hardships, the organisation had planned big commemorations.
“Zimta, the largest teacher organisation marks this day with special celebrations in all 10 provinces which include conferences, marching processions, presentations and speeches to honour the valuable work of teachers around the world,” said Zambuko.
Various events have been arranged throughout the world in celebration of World Teachers Day with a universal theme for 2012, “Take a stand for Teachers”.
In 1994 United Nations inaugurated October 5 as World Teachers Day to commemorate the joint signing of the Recommendations Concerning the Status of teachers by International Labour Organisation (ILO) and United Nations Educational and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). – Ndakaziva Majaka and Chengetai Zvauya