NASUWT shows solidarity with Zimbabwean teachers
Zimbabwe is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for trade unionists who routinely face arrest, detention, violence and torture at the hands of the security forces as they try to protect workers’ rights.
The economy has stabilised slightly since the Government of National Unity (GNU) was formed in 2009 and the subsequent adoption of the US dollar, but the country remains desperately poor, and Zimbabwe still ranks bottom on the UN’s Human Development Index.
Hundreds of thousands of people receive food aid from international aid organisations and outbreaks of disease and malnutrition are commonplace, particularly in rural areas. Unemployment is upwards of 80% of the population and crime is very high in some areas.
Coupled with the dire economic circumstances faced by millions of Zimbabweans is a brutal and repressive society headed by the ageing President Robert Mugabe.
Although a tentative power-sharing agreement exists between Mugabe’s Zanu PF party and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), it is clear the Mugabe still rules the country with an iron fist.
While private sector workers enjoy very limited freedom of association public sector workers do not have the right to form and join trade unions or to bargain collectively.
The right to strike is also limited, as the procedures that must be exhausted prior to a strike are excessively long. Taking part in an illegal strike invites prison terms of up to five years.
'Clear pattern' of violence and torture
An International Labour Organisation (ILO) Commission of Inquiry confirmed in March that violations of trade union rights are systemic and highlighted “a clear pattern of arrests, detentions, violence and torture by the security forces against trade unionists”.
Against this repressive background, the average wage of a classroom teacher in Zimbabwe is just 231 US dollars a month, which barely allows them to pay their housing costs and provide three meals a day, according to Progressive Teachers' Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) founder and President Takavafira Zhou.
“Pathetic salaries and insecurity in schools have seriously compromised the quality of education in Zimbabwe,” he said.
'Diet of starvation'
“The ‘paradise’ promised to teachers by Zimbabwean politicians has turned out to be a diet of starvation and a gun to the head.”
The PTUZ are calling for teachers’ salaries to be doubled to around 500 dollars a month, which is the level of the official poverty datum line (PDL) in the country.
Such a rise would go some way to helping Zimbabwean teachers, many of whom struggle to pay their housing costs and eat three meals a day, the union’s annual conference heard.
Its theme was ‘Well paid teachers in safe schools: A must for quality public education”.
Held at the Belvedere Teacher’s College in Harare, the conference heard disturbing examples of repression meted out against teachers, with colleagues being forcibly removed and transferred from their schools.
As well as intimidation and violence, teachers routinely teach classes with 60 to 70 children in them, have to deliver a bloated curriculum and face regular interference and threats from officials, the 300 delegates from across Zimbabwe were told.
Mr Zhou told the conference: “Workplace security and adequate remuneration are pre-requisites for quality public education.
“Teachers are a vital cog of societal development and any nation that ill-treats or rubbishes its teachers diametrically rubbishes development.
“The yardstick of a nation’s development is the school…yet the situation of teachers in Zimbabwe baffles logic and common sense as teachers are treated as enemies of the state, and pawns in the intrigues and expediency of political parties.
“The profession has lost its luster in Zimbabwe and public education is under siege.”
The NASUWT delegation was invited following a successful visit by Mr Zhou and other officials to the Union’s annual conference in Glasgow this year.
The PTUZ were inspired by what they saw and changed the structure of their conference following lessons they learned from the NASUWT.
The most substantial change was a move to debating and voting on motions, with proposers and seconders and votes at the end. Subjects debated and voted on by delegates included teacher workload, class sizes, school governance and housing co-operatives.
Visit gives 'hope and confidence'
The NASUWT delivered messages of support and solidarity to the conference with National Official for Equality and Training Jennifer Moses telling delegates: “An attack on the PTUZ is an attack on us and it will require a global response.
“I can assure you that the NASUWT will continue to work as colleagues, as comrades and as brothers and sisters with you.”
The NASUWT delegation was repeatedly thanked by delegates at the conference and frequently had to pose for photographs.
As PTUZ Secretary General Raymond Majongwe said: “Your visit really gives hope and confidence to our members.
“Seeing that you have come all this way to show solidarity at our conference inspires them and lets them feel that our plight is not ignored by the international community.
“These delegates will go back to their schools and districts and will tell other members of the international presence at our conference.”