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U.S. presses Zimbabwe on labour rights

by Staff reporter
01 Oct 2020 at 07:10hrs | Views
The United States ambassador to Zimbabwe has called on the government to respect labour rights after threats to replace teachers striking over poor pay.

Brian Nichols met labour and social welfare minister Paul Mavhima on Wednesday, a day after primary and secondary education minister Cain Mathema issued threats against striking teachers.

Unions say the strike is the biggest ever seen since the industrial action of 2008, at the height of a major economic crisis.

Following their closed-door meeting, Nichols said: "I met with Labour Minister Mavhima today to encourage the government and labour leaders to negotiate in good faith. Respect for workers' rights will help create a more prosperous Zimbabwe."

Mathema told journalists following a cabinet meeting on Tuesday that he had put 10,000 unemployed teachers on standby to replace teachers who are boycotting work.

Schools opened on Monday for exam-sitting classes. Other classes will re-open on October 26 and November 9 in a stepped return to normalcy after schools were closed in March following an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Unions reacted angrily to Mathema's threats on Wednesday.

"Those are very unfortunate outbursts from the minister. We are simply pleading with him and the government to realise that this country needs its teachers, and teachers need their jobs," Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe secretary general Raymond Majongwe said.

"All the teachers are asking for is better living. We are not asking for a fortune, we are not fortune-hunters, and neither are we charity workers. We are only asking to be given what we are worth – we are only asking for a decent wage to take care of our families and ourselves."

Majongwe said the government appeared to be under an impression that the teachers had an agenda to embarrass President Emmerson Mnangagwas regime.

"It's not a regime change agenda, we're not being sent or inspired by anybody. We're saying we don't have a problem with the government but we are having problems with our landlords, our tummies and our children whom we must take care for."

Teachers say they are being paid Z$3,500 (about US$42) per month which is not enough to pay their rentals, transport, medical expenses, food and clothing.

"If the government thinks that anyone who asks for their payment must be dismissed from their job, let them proceed and do that," said Majongwe.

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said teachers were dispirited and "no teaching is going on". The union claims 98 percent of Zimbabwe's estimated 136,000 teachers have heeded the strike call.

"These teachers can't be replaced by Mathema's reserve teachers," ARTUZ said in a statement, pointing out that 10,000 teachers equate to one teacher per school.

The union said teachers were quitting the profession by the hundreds, and "the command tactics of Mathema will only worsen the situation."

Teachers are demanding wage increases and salaries in U.S. dollars to cope with soaring inflation of over 700 percent. Unions are demanding monthly pay to be a minimum US$520 (Z$42,488), but the broke government says it cannot afford.

Students in Grade 7, Form 4 and Upper Sixth are expected to start writing final exams in December, even though pupils lost considerable learning time since their schools have been closed since the end of March.

Students lucky enough to have parents who could afford internet access took online lessons. Some teachers conducted small face-to-face lessons in the backyards of their homes.

Children in Zimbabwe's rural areas were the worst affected because many have no access to electricity, internet or backyard classes.

Mnangagwa last week assured parents and pupils that the government has put in place adequate measures to ensure the safety of returning pupils.

Zimbabwe, a country of 14.5 million people, has recorded more than 7,500 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 227 deaths. The numbers of new cases and deaths have grown more slowly in recent weeks, encouraging the government to reopen much of the economy and to try to return the country to a semblance of normal life.

Source - zimlive