Talks between Ministry of Education and Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) aimed at ending a strike by teachers collapsed in Lilongwe yesterday as teachers in public schools stood by their demand for Covid-19 risk allowances.
Despite a communiqué from the meeting held at Bingu International Convention Centre (Bicc) in Lilongwe indicating agreement between the two parties on some issues, interviews with the co-signatories—Ministry of Education Principal Secretary (Administration) Kiswell Dakamau and TUM president Willie Malimba—pointed to an impasse.
Malimba said the teachers will continue with their strike which coincided with the reopening of schools for the new academic year yesterday.
He said: “We raised three main issues, namely the recruitment of the IPTE [Initial Primary Teacher Education] cohort 13 and 14, procurement of personal protective equipment [PPE] and risk allowances.
“They have addressed some of them, but they are remaining with the risk allowance which was our main demand. They say they presented the issue to the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19. We have told them that we will wait for the response from the task force, but teachers will continue with the strike.”
Dakamau described the meeting as fruitful, indicating that the ministry had resolved issues within its mandate.
He said the issue or risk allowance requires policy direction from central government.
Dakamau said: “We pleaded with TUM that as a starting point, having solved almost all the issues, except for one on risk allowances, they should call off the sit-in so that by the
end of the day, we can now amicably handle the issue of Covid allowances, but they are saying no.”
In the communiqué, the ministry indicated it recruited 3 270 IPTE 13 teachers as demanded by TUM. The ministry also said it had provided PPE managed decongestion and school hygiene, among other things.
Random checks in the country’s three regions showed that most teachers did not report for work while the few who reported advised learners in public schools that they would not attend classes due to Covid-19.
Some learners such as at Chiwoko Primary School in Lilongwe protested in the streets against their teachers’ strike while in some schools such as Chichiri Secondary School in Blantyre, learners were seen around their campus.
One of the learners at Chichiri, Kondwani Mwera asked both TUM and government to resolve the issue in time, saying the teachers’ strike will affect their academic calendar.
In his reaction, Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe faulted government for failing to address the matter before the opening of the schools five weeks after President Lazarus Chakwera directed the closure of schools due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases.
He said the strike will negatively affect learners in public schools as their counterparts in private schools have started learning.
Kondowe said looking at cases such as what happened at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School earlier this year, it was clear that Covid-19 was prevalent in schools. He said the cases were handled by teachers; hence, deserving the risk allowances.
During the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, schools were closed in March as a precautionary measure before government reopened them in phases from September amid protests from some education rights activists and parents who feared learners would be exposed to the disease