CONFUSION has hit the reopening of schools, with teachers refusing to return to classes until government offers them a good salary deal.Schools, which closed in March following the outbreak of COVID-19, reopen today following a government directive to restart examination classes, while the majority of classes resume lessons on November 9.

BY EVERSON MUSHAVA/ NHAU MANGIRAZI

Boarding schools opened yesterday to readmit pupils set to write the Zimbabwe School Examinations Council examinations in December while day schools open today.
But teacher unions yesterday insisted that their members were still at their homes after government not onlyfailed to increase their salaries, but did not avail cheaper Zupco buses to transport them back to work.

They rubbished the statement from the Public Service Commission that government would give them a cushioning allowance in the week ending October 2.

“There are fundamental errors in that statement,” Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said.

“Teachers have not requested for a cushion, they have requested for the restoration of their purchasing power to 2018 salaries pegged at US$550.

“This is what the teacher has presented to government. If government is now presenting another offer subject to what teachers have not requested, this is misfiring. What teachers want is that government must address their dispute of right.”

He added: “In short, there is no school. From what I know, most teachers are at their homes, except a few who have been promised some US$20 per month by their schools, most of them with boarding facilities. The rest are at home.”

In statement said on Friday, Public Service Commission secretary Jonathan Wutawunashe said government was processing cushioning allowances for teachers and the rest of the civil
service.

“The Public Service Commission wishes to announce that, in the spirit of an understanding between government and its employees, government will proceed to pay, in addition to regular emoluments paid earlier this week, what is available, while negotiations in the National Joint Negotiation Council continue,” Wutawunashe said in the statement.
“The government reiterates its commitment to pay a living wage to its employees, who will start accessing the top up within the week ending October 2.”

He said the payment would not affect negotiations, but sought to cushion government workers in the meantime, in order to “support teachers who are going back to school to prepare for examinations”.

But Zhou said: “Government must stop taking teachers for granted. Teachers will continue negotiating from home. There is no way teachers can go back to school to teach other people’s children while theirs are languishing at home.

“Schools have announced fees going as high as $60 000 when teachers are being paid $4 000. How many teachers can afford that?”

Some schools have ordered pupils to pay fees ranging from $25 000 to $50 000, while others like Chishawasha, a primary school, are demanding additional items such as 20kg of mealie-meal, 3kg machine washing powder, 5kg rice, among others.

It has also emerged that government has not approved fees being levied by the schools for the term before the reopening.

Teachers last month received salaries of $2 600 following deductions for funeral, life and health insurance cover.

The educators said the amount was insignificant in an economy where a food basket for five people costs over $17 000.

Zhou said government could not talk of negotiations when the term of office for the Apex Council had expired.

“Negotiating, nobody has the right to negotiate on our behalf; the Apex Council’s term has expired. Government cannot engage people with no mandate from workers; this is why we agreed as teacher unions to go on strike.”

Zhou also said besides salaries, the health of teachers was paramount and with no testing for COVID-19 of the educators and pupils.

“When private schools reopened, some pupils tested positive. I understand there are more than 10 in isolation centres right now,” Zhou said.

Sifiso Ndlovu, the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association chief executive, said government should not have said it as a matter of certainty that schools would reopen, because it is unlikely.
“There is chaos, complete chaos, teachers will not go back to school because of resources, salaries are too low, schools don’t have PPE [personal protective equipment]. Government has not released the money for PPEs and there is no encouragement from authorities. They (authorities) are threatening us. There is need to negotiate rather than issuing threats. There will be chaos tomorrow (today).”

Primary and Secondary Education minister Cain Matema at the weekend insisted schools would open today and that teachers would report to work.

Minutes of a meeting by boarding schools in Mashonaland West province held last week show the schools were also ill-prepared to reopen, with no government support in procuring personal protective equipment.

“Fees are not yet approved, hence we cannot legally receipt as there is no new minute (clearance) giving us guidance on receiving fees and levies legally,” part of the minutes read.
“Without approved fees, the schools’ hands are tied. The schools have not yet received any PPE. Without PPE, the schools will be far away from meeting World Health Organisation protocols.”

The schools also expressed worry that classrooms and hostels were not yet disinfected as most schools had been used as quarantine and isolation centres for returnees.

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