HARARE – Thousands of rural teachers across Zimbabwe joined union-led protests yesterday against bonuses that came on top of strikes by doctors.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz)’s strike nationwide with a main rally in rural areas, is a test of how much support the union can muster over bonus curbs they say undermine the public service and purchasing power generally to the detriment of the economy.
The union — which has a total membership of 5 540 — said there were attempts by “State actors” to derail the ongoing job action, which started on Monday.
The protests come a day after Public Service minister Priscah Mupfumira said she was conducting a survey to ascertain the number of civil servants who want stands and those who want cash.
Artuz secretary general Robson Chere described this as “hypocrisy of sickening magnitude”.
“We are fully aware that the stands offer is a means to cunningly and systematically withdraw bonuses and burden civil servants with debt,” he said, adding it was a sly move to use the guise of negotiations to buy time.
The stone-broke government has told civil servants that they could only offer them three options in lieu of bonus in cash: the distribution of serviced stands where government pays 50 percent of the bonus in the form of land and the other half paid in staggered cash payments.
Government is also offering payment of bonuses in the form of a dividend where, instead of paying the workers directly, the cash will be invested in money-market instruments which will presumably yield a return down the line, an offer flatly rejected by government workers.
Ngoni Masoka, the Public Service ministry permanent secretary, said in a letter to Chere last Thursday that government was disappointed by the strike decision given ongoing talks with Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya and Mupfumira.
“Therefore, your intention to proceed on strike on a matter that is under consideration is detrimental to social dialogue. You are implored to give negotiations a chance,” Masoka’s letter pleaded.
Chere said rural teachers countrywide had joined the strike en-mass.
He said civil servants have a right to shelter and must be given stands not as a replacement of bonus but a right they must enjoy.
“Matabeleland South and Midlands are leading on numbers of teachers joining our job action,” he said.
He said they were glad with the swelling support for job action and the resuscitation of unionism.
“We will fight to the bitter end,” he said.
“Bonus means a lot to rural teachers who toil under unbearable socio-economic conditions. We will not let it go.
“Already, rural teachers are demanding that we add retention and attraction allowance and vacation leave on our list of demands. We will push for closure of bonus issue and restrategise.”
Chere said in Matabeleland South, officials from the Civil Service Commission visited workstations of Artuz provincial chairpersons and found teachers sleeping and seized the log book.
In Mashonaland East, Goromonzi District officers had reportedly summoned all heads to a meeting and advised them to instill fear in teachers at their respective schools.