LABOUR unions representing civil servants were yesterday divided over the 40% pay offer by government following a prolonged salary dispute with their employer.
Some said negotiations had failed to yield results and preferred to declare a deadlock and refer the matter for arbitration, while others said talks must be given a chance.
The divisions are set to further cripple the education sector which is currently mired in chaos with most schools operated without teachers after their unions stuck to their US$520 salary demand during the last round of negotiations last week.
This also comes at a time government, in a desperate attempt to get teachers back to work last Friday offered a pay rise which will see the lowest paid teacher earning over $19 975.But the educators turned it down. The lowest paid civil servant will earn $14 528 as per latest government offer.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president Takavafira Zhou told NewsDay that the best option for teachers was to declare a deadlock in order to push for arbitration.
Zhou said there were discrepancies between teachers and other government workers like the uniformed forces who allegedly got better pay than other civil servants.
“Nothing was done to discuss discrepancies between teachers and other government workers. It is unpalatable to pay teachers $18 000 and then pay other government workers $28 000 to $50 000,” Zhou said.
“If, therefore, the Apex Council (civil service negotiating body) leaders hope to get some semblance of respectability from teachers, they must push for a declaration of a deadlock so that the issue of teachers’ starvation wages is referred for arbitration. Of course, we cannot harvest apples from a thorn tree. There may be a need for teachers across the unions’ divide to push Apex Council to pursue the deadlock and arbitration route.”
Zhou also said there was no struggle without casualties, urging the teachers’ unions to budget for protracted legal battles.
“The current submission of names of incapacitated teachers must never be used for punitive measures against teachers as in essence, it is the government that incapacitated teachers.
Above all, we have taken all the necessary procedures of communicating the plight of our members to the Public Service Commission (PSC), line ministries, and even President Emmerson Mnangagwa as PTUZ and as a united front.”
Zimta chief executive Sifiso Ndlovu said his organisation was consulting its members, but castigated the government for intimidating teachers.
“Government simply came with a position which it is forcing us to take. This is no longer negotiation,” he said.
Teachers have not been reporting for work for the past two months pleading incapacitation.
But Apex Council spokesperson David Dzatsunga said the PTUZ and other like-minded unions should stop mudslinging, but follow legal negotiating channels that do not politicise the issue of workers.
“To start with, we are the bona fide negotiator at law. PTUZ and whoever wants to negotiate, who thinks that they can negotiate better, are free to negotiate. As unions, bad-mouthing is wrong and this is a bad idea — calling others sellouts. For your own information, the PTUZ president (Zhou) is the Midlands provincial spokesperson for MDC Alliance and he contested in Mberengwa several times without success.
“We don’t want to talk about these things. When a politician comes and talks about union issues, we don’t know whose brief he is talking about. They must stop mudslinging. We are trying our best to negotiate,” Dzatsunga said.
“We don’t want people who just talk. NJNC (National Joint Negotiating Council) is not the best platform for negotiating; we don’t have collective bargaining that gives us other rights as employees. NJNC is set to give advantage to the government.”
PTUZ secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said government should take into cognisance that the poverty datum line (PDL) was now pegged at over ZW$20 000.
“We are disappointed that the government is telling us that it can’t increase our salaries anymore. In actual fact the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe and ZimStats have proved that the PDL is now above $20 000, yet they are saying our salaries should be $19 000,” he said.
Majongwe said the Zanu PF government’s ambition to achieve a middle-class economy by 2030 would never come to fruition if workers in the country remained incapacitated.
“For the record, teachers are not on strike. All we are saying is pay us a living wage, we are not regime change agents, we are rendering a service to the nation,” he said.
Majongwe accused the Apex Council of selling out the struggle and siding with the government instead of workers.