I received the following feedback from a reader in Mzuzu:
The article was well argued and presented. The side you took allowed you to make those arguments which were properly done. However, it is sad to see people like you arguing like people who know nothing. It is too basic for one to observe that the TUM [Teachers’ Union on Malawi] is fighting its employer seeking risk allowance and you see people like you arguing that if teachers receive risk allowance, then learners, minibus drivers and ‘everybody’ should. It’s sad because you are in a better position to know that it is teachers and their employer, and not teachers and government. The examples of the people you mentioned are only true if it were teachers and government (the State) and not their employer. If you or minibus drivers are not asking for risk allowance (from your employer) it does not mean anyone else should not.
And to say teachers are not at risk, but health workers, is to assume that Covid-19 only spreads in hospitals. We all know Covid-19, and it is laughable for one to assume selective transmission of the virus. At least you the classroom set-up and Covid-19. Finally, the stay-away was not for salary or better working conditions. You mixed two unrelated things. You can argue better next time.
Your keen follower
I thank you for this feedback. However, I wish to point out some fundamental errors explicitly or implicitly expressed in your criticism.
The fact that teachers were demanding risk allowances from their ‘employer’ does not legitimise the demand. I have had no qualms with TUM approaching government in its capacity as their employer. All that my article stated was that the demand for risk allowance was unreasonable because teachers, unlike health workers, were not in any greater danger than the majority of the population who always intermingle with other members of the public. What I objected to was the equating of the level of risk that teachers face to that which frontline health workers are subjected to. Workers can engage their employers on any issue but they must present an argument that is water-tight to have any chance of success.
If you followed my article well, you will appreciate that I pointed out that if the teachers had been genuinely concerned about the risk of Covid-19 transmission, they would have demonstrated their seriousness by ensuring that their gathering to stage a demonstration was organised with strict Covid-19 prevention measures in force, which clearly was not the case.
Our colleagues in the legal profession say: “He who comes to equity must do so with clean hands”, meaning that if you genuinely seek remedies for some wrong done to you, you must ensure that you are clear from any offences yourself, particularly those that are similar to the one for which you seek remedies.
It does not make any sense to seek a remedy to possible coronavirus exposure (in this case the remedy being sought was a risk allowance) when you subject yourself and others to conditions that make you extremely vulnerable to contracting the very same disease you are seeking remedies for. The pictures shown on television as the teachers went on strike portrayed such conditions as there was no observance of social distancing, and only a handful of people wore a mask.
You seem to imply in your feedback that since Covid-19 is not only spread in hospitals; therefore, the risk that frontline health workers face is the same as that which others outside the hospital face (including teachers). Nothing can be further from the truth! It is because of the diligence that health workers have in doing everything possible to avoid catching diseases, including Covid-19, that they stay healthy.
What health workers do to stay safe often involves huge personal sacrifice. I avoided the use of personal illustrations in my article, but I will depart from that position now.
My own son recently qualified as a medical doctor. I happen to be a teacher, too, albeit at a level other than primary or secondary, and his mother a white collar office worker. During the time our son was at home, we would all come home from work and he would keep his surgical mask on, would avoid eating with us or chatting with us at close range. He would literally keep himself to himself to avoid passing on pathogens he may have picked up in the course of his work. Several times he had to take Covid-19 tests just to be sure that he was safe.