By Anna Chibamu
EDUCATION Minister Cain Mathema has threatened to dismiss all striking teachers and replace them with over 20 000 teachers who are currently unemployed.
Teachers in public schools who started work this week have embarked on industrial action over low salaries and working conditions.
Presenting a ministerial statement in the National Assembly on the situation in schools, Mathema told MPs there was a low turnout in teachers and warned those not responding for duty that they risked being replaced by more than 20 000 unemployed tutors.
“The situation for the re-opening of schools on Monday, 28th September 2020 was characterised by a high turnout for learners and a low turnout for teachers. We understand some teachers have cited incapacitation but a teacher cannot have received his or her salary and be unable to report to work even on the first day,” he said.
“Where will be the rationale for government to continue paying an employee who is giving no service at all? I would like to urge teachers to reflect and ensure that we find each other.
“Currently, there are over 20 000 qualified teachers who are looking for work and hundreds of thousands of learners who are looking for teachers.”
However, the MPs queried why the government had reopened schools without resolving labour issues and also failed to provide teachers and learners with personal protective equipment.
“I am disappointed by the statement which has failed to articulate teachers’ grievances yet the minister focused on replacement and any guidance to teachers on the disease,” MDC Alliance Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya said.
In response Mathema said; “Schools offering Cambridge and ZIMSEC examinations reopened for the 2020 examination classes on 14th September 2020 and 28th September 2020 respectively. Prior to the reopening, government and the ministry made sure that safe and secure an environment as possible was created in the schools.
“The training of all teachers before they can begin teaching and learning. This was done in collaboration with the Minister of Health. Training was interrupted by the lockdown but it went through,” added Mathema.
Primary and Secondary Education Parliamentary Portfolio chairperson Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mishonga asked the minister why government was not engaging the teachers.
“Why are you not having any conversation with employees. Where is the challenge?”
MDC Alliance Harare North MP Rusty Markham told Speaker Jacob Mudenda that schools in his constituency had no PPEs while up to five pupils were sharing a single book putting the learners at risk of contracting Covid-19.
Zanu PF Chegutu West MP Dexter Nduna suggested that the minister should consider meeting the lands minister to find ways to introduce non-monetary incentives such as mining claims or land for farming to help cushion the teachers’ salaries.
The minister promised to look into the matter.
“I have to find ways to make sure learners continue with schooling. That is the norm in every society. We will do our best to work with what is available on the ground.”
Teachers’ unions have vowed that their members will not go to work until their salary grievances are resolved.