Thursday, February 15, 2007

Reinstate suspended Senanga teachers (Editorial)

SESTUZ calls for the lifting of Senanga teachers' suspension
By Patson Chilemba
Thursday February 15, 2007 [02:00]

SECONDARY School Teachers Union of Zambia (SESTUZ) has urged the Western Province provincial education officer (PEO) to lift the suspension of 86 teachers in Senanga district. The teachers were suspended for striking over rural hardship allowances without following laid down procedures.

But Ministry of Education permanent secretary Lillian Kapulu said she would wait for an official report from the PEO before deciding on whether to fire or reinstate the teachers. Commenting on the suspension of 86 teachers in Senanga, SESTUZ president Sefulo Nyambe appealed to the government to lift the suspension because their absence from work has paralysed education in the area. "The loser in this suspension is the pupil. We don't support the sit-in by the teachers but we appeal for the suspension to be lifted," he said.

And one of the suspended teachers, who chose to remain anonymous, said they were entitled to the rural hardship allowances because there was no circular to indicate that the said allowances had been scrapped. "According to the circular of 1994, the entire Senanga District is eligible to get the rural hardship allowance but suddenly the PEO told us that we were not eligible after he read a certain portion. But our union members got access to the whole document and told us that the PEO lied," said the teacher. Senanga member of parliament Clement Sinyinda said he had received reports that the PEO and the District Education Board were working at replacing the suspended teachers. "I am told instead of working at it amicably, the District Education Board and PEO are contemplating on replacing the teachers. To replace and employ this huge number may not be easy," Sinyinda said. "The rural hardship allowance came as a circular released in 1994 that Senanga should receive the money. Since then there has never been a circular to show that the allowance has been scrapped."

Kapulu said the teachers that went on strike did not follow the laid down procedures. "They should have followed laid-down procedures instead of them going on an illegal strike... definitely we would have listened to them if they had done so," Kapulu said. "I am expecting a report from the Provincial Education Officer. According to the report, that's where we will base the judgement on whether to fire or reinstate these teachers." Kapulu said only those that operated in areas that were 20 kilometres from the district were eligible to get hardship allowance.

Nyambe said last week the District Education Board secretary Mebelo Notulu in Senanga District suspended 86 teachers for going on an illegal strike over the rural hardship allowances. Some schools that have been affected include Senanga and Matauka high schools, and Namalangu, Senanga and Litambya basic schools. Other schools include Hospital Unit, Senanga Day Centre and Senanga School for the Deaf.

Meanwhile, Nyambe has welcomed the reduction in PAYE from 30 to 25 per cent for those in the lower rate, and from 35 to 30 for those in the middle rate and 35.7 to 35 per cent for those in the top rate. "We are happy with the reduction on the tax and we hope it will make the home pay reasonable," he said.

However, Nyambe bemoaned the increase in the prices of essential goods such as fuel and transport fares, saying that the reduction in taxes would have little impact. He said negotiations for a new collective bargain were still on-going and hoped for salaries and housing allowances to be increased.

Reinstate suspended Senanga teachers
By Editor
Thursday February 15, 2007 [02:00]

Given that the grievances that teachers have been forwarding to the government are not new although they remain largely unresolved, we are surprised at the high-handedness of the education authorities in Western Province in the manner they are handling the case of the 86 teachers in Senanga district who are alleged to have been striking illegally. Administrative bureaucracies notwithstanding, the affected teachers have a genuine case before the government. Any responsible and responsive authority is not expected to react via punitive measures such as suspensions.

If the education authorities in Western Province were genuinely interested in having the teachers’ matter resolved, the immediate reaction should not have been to slap them with suspensions. Yes, the government may be quick - and it is quite convenient for them to tread on such shaky ground - to declare the strike action by the 86 teachers illegal. However, to take such a simple approach to problems that have become a perennial burden on the education sector is to miss the whole point, it is to gloss over the main issues that continue to beg for answers from those who ought to provide them.

The problem of hardship allowances for teachers working under extremely difficult conditions in rural areas is not something new. And when we talk about difficult conditions for teachers, we do not just mean that teachers are getting little pay. By difficult conditions, we also mean teachers who do not have decent accommodation. We wouldn’t be surprised to find that some of them live in grass-thatched huts. These are teachers who have no access to clean piped water. It should not surprise us if some of them share water with animals from streams, dams or some shallow wells. The government should be in a better position to understand the real problems that teachers are going through. And these problems are not only limited to teachers in rural outposts. Even some of the teachers who are based in urban centres are going through a variety of difficulties, including a lack of decent accommodation.

Nobody should blame the Senanga teachers for resorting to strike action or a sit-in protest. After all, experience has shown that workers can only get that which belongs to them, or at least that which they should be entitled to, when they have taken actions such as strikes, boycotts or sit-ins. We have seen that the government is only willing to get to the negotiation table with workers on serious terms when workers have withdrawn their labour. If such action is what makes the government move or listen, why should blame be apportioned to the workers? And we hope that reports that authorities are considering to replace the 86 teachers are not true. Apart from the fact that these teachers still deserve to be heard before taking any unilateral action against them, it is also true that the country is at the moment still battling with numbers when it comes to the teaching establishment. There are too few teachers for our too few schools around the country. It would be irresponsible for any authority to discard committed professionals just like that when nearly all government schools are operating below capacity.

Besides, we do not think that the 86 teachers have committed an offence which should even lead to separation from service. These 86 teachers are honest and humble public service workers who are only asking for what they deserve. It is unfair to condemn them in the manner that authorities in Western Province are doing. Let us also remember that as this circus is going on, pupils in the affected schools are not learning because their teachers have been suspended. This is one of the consequences that the authorities should be aware of as they continue keeping these teachers on unnecessary suspensions.

As we have stated in the past, avoidable conflicts that lead to strike action should not be allowed in the first place. We are saying this because our teachers are not asking for the impossible. Their demands are actually very humble and modest. Yes, our country does not have enough financial resources to give our teachers salaries that may be comparable to those in other countries like Botswana or South Africa. But we can surely treat them in a manner that increases their dignity, or a sense of it; we can make them feel necessary and respected. After all, we are all a product of our teachers without whom we wouldn’t be what we are today, we wouldn’t be able to do what we are doing today.

But today, the way things stand, our teachers - the true heroes of our people - have been reduced to nothing. Therefore, instead of subjecting our teachers - especially the 86 from Senanga - to unnecessary mental anguish by suspending them or threatening to replace them, let the government take the decision that is right. By saying this, we are in no way supporting or abetting wrongdoing. But we feel that there is no wrong that the 86 teachers in Senanga have committed. The only correct thing for the government to do is to admit that there is a genuine problem before them which requires their action. Furthermore, the 86 teachers’ suspensions should be lifted so that they can go about their normal duties, with the hope that in due course, the government shall do its part. Doing this is in the interests of the government, teachers, pupils and the nation at large.

We expect the government to act on its responsibilities.



At 10:53 AM , Blogger MrK said...

If 20,000 teachers earned $200 per month, that would cost the state $48 million per year. Which sounds very possible to me.

I think the present minimum wage is $20 per month?


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