By Obert Masaraure ARTUZ National President
Zimbabweans and citizens of the world have been inundated with calls for United Dollars Salaries for civil servants in Zimbabwe.
Some have questioned why government workers would demand a salary in foreign currency and others even ask why there seem to be no end to the crisis.
This instalment is an attempt to unpack the root cause of the salary crisis and address the frequently asked questions.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, ARTUZ has been at the forefront of demanding “the restoration of the value of our salaries.”
The teachers staged multiple protests including a 278 km march, one of the Union members Sheila Chisirimunhu was convicted and sentenced to 10 months in prison, countless teachers and trade Unionists calling for labour justice have been persecuted and harassed by state security apparatus and the government of Zimbabweans has made it a crime to demand a living wage in Zimbabwe.
Why all the hustle? In 2012, the government and the employee side held salary negotiations, the salaries were negotiated in United States Dollars under multi-currency system.
The minimum salary of a teacher was pegged at USD 520 then, it was not enough to meet the basic needs of teachers but it was accepted for the sake of progress.
From 2013 to 2016 teachers were pushing for a salary raise but government ignorantly decreed that they could not raise the salaries and focused government spending more on security ministries and the office of the President but neglecting the education sector.
The salaries then were below the SADC average of around USD 600, teachers and other civil servants patriotically served hoping that the employer would one day raise their salaries.
On November 28, 2016, the government of Zimbabwe introduced the bond notes under the guise that it was an export incentive.
The bond notes were made legal tender when then President Mugabe used Presidential powers to amend Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Act designating the bond notes as legal tender equivalent to the U.S. dollar.
Teachers were latter to be paid in the bond notes equivalent of their U.S.D salaries.
Thus a teacher would now earn 520 bond notes per month.
The money was not physically available and citizens were encouraged to transact online.
Workers were now receiving electronic money designated in USD dollars but the USD dollars were none existent.
They were earning bond money. The Atlantic Magazine in America commended that Zimbabwe was printing its own US dollars.
The value of the bond notes fell against the dollar at one-point value of bond note against US Dollar was around 40%. Government however insisted that it was 1:1.
This was wage theft. It was also illegal. The government had unilaterally varied a contract with employees.
In October 2018 the government began a process of currency reforms. Banks were ordered to separate Foreign Currency Accounts, FCAs from RTGS accounts.
Unfortunately, the teachers who used to hold FCAs accounts were forcibly moved to RTGS accounts.
The salaries were now in RTGS. Government finally dumped the 1:1 on 20 February 2019 through a Monetary Policy Statement.
Teacher salaries were not adjusted to the liberalized exchange rate. One would have expected government to simply pay up the minimum of USD 520 in the equivalent of RTGS.
Government refused to adjust salaries but allowed the market forces to dictate prices of goods and services.
The theft which was once hidden behind the 1:1 exchange rate was now apparent.
This prompted teachers to demand their pre October 2018 salaries. Government was now calling for fresh negotiations after violating a standing agreement.
The introduction of a new currency through the controversial S142 of 2019 was the final nail on the coffin of teacher salaries.
Goods and services are currently being sold in US Dollars but teachers still earn the volatile local currency.
Teachers have begged government to pay the equivalent of USD 520 to no avail. Government’s move was a serious assault on the doctrines of freedom and sanctity of contract.
A standing contract was trashed by employer. Today teachers earn poverty wages after the wage theft achieved through currency reforms.
A teacher earns a salary of an equivalent of around USD 75 monthly excluding COVID19 allowance.
This is just a fraction of the USD 520 produced from salary negotiations.
Teachers are living in poverty, they can’t buy decent clothes, and they can’t afford basic meals, shelter, healthcare, education and other basics. They are incapacitated.
Teacher dignity has been eroded through unjust labour practices by the government of Zimbabwe and this more reflected by their refusal to adjust to modern trends of labour relations.
In the next instalment we will cover the structural impediments to collective job action and collective bargaining for teachers. We call upon citizens of the world to support our struggle for the restoration of our robbed salaries.
This is in the best interest of our education which has taken a big knock because of teacher incapacitation. Aluta continua.
By Obert Masaraure ARTUZ National President
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