Many Zimbabwean schools that closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic remain shuttered as teachers refuse to return to the classroom, citing a need for better pay.
The teachers are paid less than $100 a month. The government has offered a 20 percent pay increase and other incentives, but the teachers have rejected that offer as insufficient.
Meanwhile, some youths are studying independently. One such student, a 16-year-old, said, "My appeal [to the government] is for a salary increment for teachers so that they come to work, because we aren’t learning. It’s like we are paying fees for nothing. It’s so painful as my parents are struggling for it when I am not learning at all.”
The pay dispute goes back to October 2018, when the government stopped paying teachers in U.S. dollars, switching to the reintroduced Zimbabwean dollar. The new currency has steadily lost value, effectively reducing teachers' wages.
Obert Masaraure, president of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said the instructors want their old salaries restored and that the offer of a 20 percent raise amounted to almost nothing.
“We asked for the restoration of salaries, which were robbed from us by the government of the day," Masaraure said. "And the message to the government is clear: We need our pre-October 2018 salaries of 540 dollars U.S. We know these shenanigans of adding an extra dollar to our salaries — that does not add up.”
Government officials see the ongoing talks in a different light and voice optimism about a successful resolution.
Paul Mavima, Zimbabwe's minister of public service, labor and social welfare, said, "In many ways we already have a breakthrough. The leaders of the workers have to a very large extent welcomed this package and they are only saying: Let’s discuss how it is going to be implemented.”
The teachers and government are expected to meet in coming days to resume negotiations. Meanwhile, students wait to resume their studies months after the COVID-19 pandemic forced their schools to close.