(Last Updated on August 30, 2021 by ZIMDAILY EDITOR)
HARARE – JOINT REPORT OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON PRIMARY AND SECONDARY EDUCATION AND PUBLIC SERVICE, LABOUR AND SOCIAL WELFARE ON THE PETITION FROM TEACHERS UNIONS ON TEACHERS WELFARE
HON. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: I move the motion standing in my name that this House takes note of the joint Report of the Portfolio Committee on Primary and Secondary Education and Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare on the petition from Teachers Union on teachers’ welfare. HON. T. MOYO: I second. HON. MISIHAIRABWI-MUSHONGA: May I give my gratitude to the Chief Whip of the ruling Party and of the Opposition for allowing me to dispose of this particular motion. This is a report of two Portfolio Committees on Public Service Labour and Social Welfare and the one on Primary and Secondary Education. The report is about a petition that was received from the Teachers’ Unions namely ZIMTA and PTUZ as way back as June 2019. Let me begin by apologising for the delay in responding to the petition by the Committees but you would know that we went past our 60 day timeframe largely because of the issues that are to do with COVID-19 and therefore bringing people together and having conversations was a bit difficult.
The joint Portfolio Committees on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and Primary and Secondary Education received a petition from Teachers’ Unions, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) and Progressive Teachers Union in June 2019. The delays in responding to the petition by the Committees within the stipulated time frame of 60 days can be partially attributed to the COVID pandemic lockdown restrictions. In light of Parliament’s oversight and legislative roles, the petitioners beseeched Parliament to:
1.0 Undertake, insist and ensure that the State promptly reviews, calculates and pay teachers’ salaries in line with the rate of inflation obtaining at the prevailing moment;
2.0 Ensure that salaries and allowances of teachers pegged in RTGS dollars are reviewed and paid in full consideration of the inter-bank rate since the said salaries and allowances were computed on contracts which were consummated before the 2019 monetary policy; and
3.0 Undertake, to insist and ensure that the state immediately reviews its budget to cushion teachers by paying teachers at least USD200 over and above the RTGS dollars being paid as salary.
The Committees inquiry was guided by the following objectives;
· To respond to the petition from the Teachers’ Unions;
· To appreciate the challenges being faced by Teachers; and
· To offer policy recommendations for improvements on the welfare of teachers.
As part of the inquiry, the Committees jointly received oral evidence from the petitioners. In addition, the Committees invited Dr. S. Ndlovu and Mr. L. Zunde from ZIMTA and PTUZ to a Strategic Interventions in the Education Sector workshop held from the 26th – 29th of March 2020, at Holiday Inn Hotel, in Mutare to further discuss the petition. Ambassador J. Wutawunashe, the Secretary for the Public Service Commission was also invited to participate at the workshop.
4.0 COMMITTEES FINDINGS
4.1 Petitioners’ Grievances
The petitioners registered a myriad of grievances including:
4.1.1 Low Remuneration
ZIMTA and PTUZ representatives decried that while teachers and other civil service workers have been negotiating for the upwards review of their salaries and improvement of working conditions for several years, the Government has always responded by awarding paltry increments. An illustrative example was the RTGS$69.00 awarded to workers in the Civil Service across the board in April 2019 on a salary that was initially awarded in United States Dollars (US$) without taking into account that the two currencies were no longer at par and that the inflation rate was estimated to be 900 percent. In addition, the petitioners complained that it was difficult for teachers to access critical services such as health care as they were priced in US$. Consequently, teachers could not meet basic needs of their families such as food, accommodation rentals and school fees. The reduction of student teacher grants to dating back to 2017 by 43 percent was also noted to be an issue of concern as they can no longer sustain themselves. Further, the petitioners lamented that salaries in the education sector were not commensurate with rank and authority as grading was last done in 2000. The difference between a headmasters and teacher’s salary was reported to be RTGS$20.00, while that of a Senior Teacher and Schools Inspector was RTGS$15.00. The reluctance of ZIMSEC to pay examinations setting and invigilation fees was also flagged as a key factor causing the recurrent paper leakages. Finally, the petitioners bemoaned that teachers’ salaries ceased during Manpower Development Leave which incapacitated teachers from caring for their families and paying tuition fees. Overally, this demotivated and distracted teachers which negatively impacted on the image of teaching as a “decent” profession.
The petitioners noted that by failing to adequately remunerate its employees, the government was in essence violating their right to fair labour standards provided for by Section 65 of the Constitution. Consequently, this negatively affected the rights of children to education stipulated by Sections 75 and 81 of the Constitution as demotivated teachers could not provide quality services, thereby short-changing the student. It was also highlighted that the government overally violated the International Labour Organisation (ILO) minimum standard No. 95 of ensuring that employees and their families have a decent living and Sustainable Development Goal Number 4 on inclusive and equitable quality education. 4.1.2 Poor Infrastructure
The Committees were informed that the lack of suitable infrastructure was a serious challenge faced in urban and new resettlement areas, including classrooms and teachers’ accommodation. It was highlighted that urban schools could no longer maintain infrastructure due to the withdrawal of a government subsidy which used to be allocated in this regard. The school fees and levies were reported to be inadequate to cater for infrastructure maintenance as the payment rate was low due to financial constraints being experienced countrywide. Most schools structures in resettlement areas were farm houses.
4.1.3 High student to teacher ratio
A high student to teacher ratio was also put forward as a serious challenge being experienced in the education sector. The petitioners highlighted that the minimum number of students in a class handled by a single teacher was 60 which compromised effective teaching.
4.1.4 Inadequate tools of the trade
The Committees learnt that teachers with disability have to purchase extra materials such as the white stick, lotion, braille machines, projectors etc. using their own meagre salaries. Furthermore, the new educational curriculum, coupled with the advent of virtual learning spurred by the COVID pandemic demands that teachers have ICT gadgets to enable them to interface with learners.
The petitioners noted that a majority of schools were headed by acting headmasters which compromised effective management of these institutions. It was also highlighted that some administrators raised petty and time consuming misconduct cases against teachers due to inadequate capacity. Additionally, the petitioners highlighted that it was very difficult for a teacher to transfer to another school for valid reasons such as joining a spouse due to corrupt tendencies by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education officials. In some cases it took as long as five years for a teacher to get a transfer which exposes some families to the risk of breaking down and high incidences of divorce among teachers.
4.1.6 Student indiscipline
The petitioners expressed concern that rife indiscipline in schools was derailing learner education as students were legally “untouchable.” The Committees were informed that the abolition of corporal punishment made it difficult for teachers to control students resulting in spiraling cases of drug abuse, amongst others.
4.1.7 A Legal Framework which impedes social dialogue
The petitioners noted that the following legal instruments impede social dialogue within the Public Service in contravention of the Constitution, namely;
a) The Public Service Act [Chapter 16:04]
Section 8 (2) on the Functions of the Public Service Commission, attributes fixing of conditions of service as one of the Commission’s responsibilities. The Petitioners argued that “fixing” was not accommodative and ignore concept of collective bargaining. Section 19 on the Conditions of Service for a Member of the Public Service, deals with determination of remuneration, benefits, leave, and hours of work only in consultation with the Minister and Treasury, thereby leaving behind crucial partner, which is the employee through their representative. Another provision which was identified, includes Sections 20 and 24 on consultations on conditions of service for members and recognised associations and organisation, do not oblige the Commission to consult as “may be” giving a room for either to consult or not to.
b) Statutory Instrument (S.I) 45 of 1998
The Petitioners raised concerns regarding the legal framework establishing the labour environment in the public sector. One critical legal framework identified was the Statutory Instrument 45 of 1998 which regulate formation of labour associations. Section, 3 (any group of members of the public service may form and association), 4 and as soon as possible if constitution conforms cause notice to be published in the Gazette, 5 between 6 months and 1 year of provisional recognition apply to Minister to cause for confirmation of recognition and 6 entitled to make presentation to Minister, PSC have access to members during working hours. The Petitioners noted that the process of establishing a Union within the public service was flawed and need to be reviewed. Due to lack of regulations, there was a mushrooming of Teachers Unions and if all of them are allocated time to meet their membership, there could be little teaching on the ground.
c) Statutory Instrument of 141 of 1997
The above statutory instrument sought to regulate the legal framework setting the labour movement in the public service by establishing a Public Service Joint negotiation Council. Dr Ndlovu noted that Section 3 of the SI, establish objectives and composition of the joint Council “shall be to engage in mutual salary related consultations and negotiations as well as determination of allowances and conditions of services in the Public Services”. The Petitioners noted that there was no opportunity or room to discuss any other developmental issues, as the main objective was to discuss salaries only. The Petitioners also bemoaned that there were no alternative channels or informal channels to discuss other issues that may not be salary related but add value to how employees conduct their business.
Summary of Current weaknesses in the Legal Framework
In a nutshell, the inadequacy of the legal framework has resulted in the following challenges;
· Current laws are ultra vires the Constitution as they promote consultations at the expense of collective bargaining
· Slowness of administrative and judicial procedures in case of dispute and anti-union discrimination
· Lack of discursive sanctions
· Restrictions on the right of parties to determine the level and scope of bargaining
· Unclear union recognition and registration principles
· Weakened institutions of social dialogue and consequently posting feelings of anomie
Additionally, the petitioners called for the establishment of a Teachers Bargaining Council which would collectively negotiate better working conditions for teachers. Finally, the petitioners implored Parliament to align the Public Service Act to Section 65 of the Constitution and to expedite the ratification of International Labour Organisation Conventions (ILO) Conventions 151 and 154.
4.2 Response from the Public Service Commission (PSC)
Ambassador Wutawunashe drew attention to the mandate of the PSC which is to determine the conditions of service of employees in the public service. He noted that good conditions of service encompass a sense of security, empathy and sympathy for employees. He outlined the initiatives being implemented by the government to improve the conditions of service for the 140 000 teachers and in total 200 000 workers in the Civil Service including:
i. The Government Employees Mutual Savings (GEMS) Fund;
ii. Adoption of the Defined Pension Benefits System; and
iii. Rebate on importation of vehicles by civil servants and a soft loan vehicle scheme for some grades. He further highlighted that Government was in the process of establishing a modernisation trust which is an initiative to dignify the work place by providing adequate tools of the trade to civil servants.
5.0 Committees Observations
The Committees noted the following;
- There are 140 000 teachers out of almost 200 000 civil servants.
- Teachers’ salaries are grossly inadequate and cannot cater for their own and family basic needs.
- The impasse between the Government and teachers has not been resolved for a long time.
- Teachers are clearly demotivated and prefer to conduct extra lessons or other moonlighting activities from which they earn foreign currency payments.
- The teachers’ conditions of service improved during the period 2008 and 2013.
- Engagement between teachers unions and the Public Service and Government has always been centred on salaries, which has overcrowded other broader issues relating to conditions of service.
- There can be meaningful engagement between teachers and the government, without politicising the process. We are speaking as a Committee and have felt that when we have engages with teachers’ union, unlike some of the conversations we hear out there, we have not found that they have politicized the issues. They have been very clear with where the problems are. I think if both the teachers and Government listen to each other, we may be to address some of the problems that are there without necessarily creating the toxicity that is associated with both parties being political. We have continued to raise this with the unions that they need to ensure when they engage with Government they are engaging from a non-political point of view. Sometimes you do not get to be heard if you are seemingly speaking a language that turns out to be partisan. Thus, the engagement between teachers unions, Public Service and Government has always been centred. I think we want to underscore that and say one of the problems that we think we are facing is that we have to find a way of engaging outside the issues that are to do with salaries. The moment you are talking and you are engaging on the basis of salaries, you then have a problem.
- Government should call for an urgent meeting with Civil Service Workers Union to discuss the current negotiating framework, including its shortfall and explore the possibility of coming up with a framework that favours the majority of civil servants by 31st August, 2021.
The Committee on Primary and Secondary Education was fortunate to have gone into the region to benchmark and one of the things we looked at in the region was the legal negotiating frameworks for teachers in the region. We felt that in most countries, they do have a sectorial way of negotiating with teachers. We are not recommending a specific one because we think it is a basis for conversations. We also think we should open up this conversation to see whether there is a way, without necessarily overturning the entire negotiating framework for civil service but to try and find a way in which teachers in particular, find themselves onto the negotiating framework. One of the problems is, even though we have a negotiating framework, the teachers feel alienated from that negotiating framework. There could be a way of coming up with it and like I said, as both Committees, we do not have a proposal as yet but we did see from other countries that it resolved some of the problems that are associated with the majority of civil servants.
- The Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare should draft a Bill on the management of unions in order to rationalise activities of these bodies by December 2021. I must say that this recommendation actually came from the unions. When they did, we actually said we do not want to put this recommendation then because as unions they come back and say their democratic space has been taken away. They said one of the problems that you have is that vague way of registering unions. They did say in certain instances, you can have as many as 10 to 15 unions and it becomes problematic because at a school, each union has a right to come in. So at a school, the teachers can spend the whole day seeing one union after another and there may have to be a way of creating a proper criterion, for example; do you have a particular set of members in your union, constitution, et cetera that will limit the number of unions that you will have without necessarily going against their democratic right to form themselves.
- That the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare and the Public Service Commission should create an informal communication framework with unions for purposes of continuously engaging on pertinent issues relating to the welfare of the Civil Service. We made this proposal to the Ministry of Public Service and to the Public Service Commission. One of our arguments was that it did not have to be formal but they could every two or three months, open up for conversations with the unions so that you do not meet at the time when there is a strike or when they are not coming to school. You will be generally talking about everything. I think there is also a sense that even things that happen within the teaching profession are not discussed because that process is not available. I must say we had bilateral conversations with the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Finance. So these recommendations we are giving you now are recommendations that were adopted and agreed to by the various organisations and institutions.
- That as part of conditions of teachers, the Public Service Commission in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education, should introduce a tuition fee waiver for up to three children attending public schools per teacher by October 2021. We are very excited about this particular issue because when we started having discussions with the Minister of Public Service, their initial response was to do it for everyone and not just teachers. I must however say by the time we went to meet Minister M. Ncube, it was one of the recommendations that he immediately liked and said he would try and factor it into the budget. As you know, those that work for ZESA get free electricity, those that are in the medical field when they are going to hospitals, they get a waiver. So, I think it is unfair for teachers to teach other children yet their own children will not be able to go to school. We feel this is something that is doable and I think it will show the political will and the sensitivity that Government is having around teachers.
- That the Public Service Commission should re-grade job posts in the teaching profession and civil service widely to reflect the reporting hierarchy and professional qualifications in order to restore the dignity and authority of the manager over subordinates. I will give an example of headmasters and school inspectors. This is a real massive problem. We have found that the reason why we do not have proper supervision is that you do not have a difference between somebody who becomes a school inspector and a headmaster. That is why no one likes to be a school inspector. You are better off being a headmaster sitting at your school with no other obligations because the grading system is not there. So, if we are going to get inspectors who will be on the ground to be able to supervise, there is need to remunerate them at a different level so that the hierarchy is seen and it is noticed.
I am also happy to report that the Minister of Public Service responded very positively to this particular issue including Minister Ncube. In fact, he said this was one of the initial things that he would start working on as they begin to look at the resources that they are putting into the teaching profession. We are happy that we will be able to see a difference in that respect.
- That the Government and the teachers union immediately engage in meaningful negotiations without the process being politicised. We really plead with both parties and in this instance, Government and teachers have a responsibility to ensure that the future of our children is in the right hands. We cannot continue to go years and years without getting to a point at which we can say this is the position that we now have. If we are going to do incremental things, let there be an agreement around that. I do not think that the attitude of weighing each other and thinking who is more powerful than the other works because it is at the detriment of our children.
- That teachers welfare should be prioritised and the platform for negotiation should be strengthened through amending appropriate legislation. The teachers union already has a draft of how they think you may create the subcommittee which is sector related and can feed into the broader negotiating forum. We were thinking if that happens, we may be able to move a bit faster than we have been doing around negotiations.
- That whilst negotiations between Government and the teachers union have centred on salaries, like I said before, I am now repeating, there is need to broaden the issues that are associated with some of these things. When we spoke to the unions, there were loads of issues, issues to do with curricula development and at the moment we are dealing with the CALA issue. I think if we engage on those issues which are not necessarily issues of remuneration, there may be softer issues in which we may find agreement.
We are going to be bringing to this House Mr. Speaker, the strategic interventions that are outside the issues of salaries and remunerations around the education sector. We thought that because this was a petition primarily to do with issues of remuneration, we owed it to both the teachers that had brought this petition and yourselves. Like I said, it is timely to bring this. So we really want to thank both the teachers’ unions and we want to thank Government - in particular the line ministries and the Ministers who gave us time, bilaterally to work on this and promised that they indeed would do something about it. We also insisted that although the conditions of service sit within the Public Service Commission, we believe that a silo mentality may not address the issues. For example, the Minister of Housing needs to be brought on board so that we can deal with the issues of housing for teachers. All these sector ministers need to be set up. We always do that when we have a crisis. When we had COVID-19, we set up a Ministerial Committee to look at issues of COVID-19. I think that is what we need to do on issues to do with teachers. Let us create an inter-ministerial so that we also give a sense to our teachers that we are concerned, worried and want to make sure that their conditions of service are improved. I must thank you Mr. Speaker.