Friday, March 01, 2013

(NEWZIMBABWE) Teachers slam Coltart over referendum

Teachers slam Coltart over referendum
28/02/2013 00:00:00
by Staff Reporter

TEACHERS' unions have slammed Education Minister David Coltart’s move to block them from working in next month’s referendum saying their members should be allowed to make extra cash since the government refuses to pay them a living wage.

Zimbabwe holds a constitutional referendum on March 16 and teachers, who make up the bulk of the state’s estimated 230,000 employees, have traditionally worked as polling officers during national votes.

But Coltart was quoted by the Herald Wednesday saying he would seek to block teachers from taking part in the referendum arguing this would disrupt learning around the country.

On Thursday the minister, however, said the publication misrepresented the ministry's position over the issue.

"At no time did either I or any member of my staff state that there would be a total ban on teachers participating in the referendum. What we have said is that there should be minimal disruption of the education sector and to that extent qualified teachers should only be used as a last resort to ensure that as many of them as possible remain as long as possible at their posts in their classrooms," the minister said in a statement.

"We cannot afford the remainder of the term being disrupted with thousands of qualified teachers leaving their posts to be trained. The recently released O Level results are a reminder that the education sector remains in crisis and children's education remains under threat. Accordingly it is in our national interest not to disturb their education any more as far as possible."

Still, teachers’ unions said the ministry should have consulted them first and insisted that their members could not be stopped from taking part in national events.

“The minister should not stop teachers from participating in a national event as that would create a feeling of exclusion,” said Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) chief executive officer, Sifiso Ndlovu.

“To say the referendum would disrupt the learning process is a flimsy excuse because we have always participated in national events and teachers have made contingency measures for the time lost.

“What the minister says is not plausible at all. Some educators want to take part in this exercise to get some pennies. This is a once off opportunity for teachers to make extra cash especially in this difficult economic situation.”

Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary general, Raymond Majongwe, added: “The referendum is a government programme and teachers must participate although we want a clear contract and conditions of payment.

“This exercise will help the teachers to augment their paltry salaries. The minister knows that civil servants are poor and such programmes come as an advantage to teachers.”

Teachers and the rest of the civil service spent most of last year battling the government for a near doubling of their salaries from the current US$296 for the least paid to about US$600 in line with the country’s poverty datum line.

The government maintained it could not meet the demands arguing the state wage bill was already accounting for more than 60 percent of overall revenues and expenditure. An inflation-adjusted 5,3 percent increment backdated to January was announced early this month.

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