Lack of communication affected a nationwide teachers’ strike on Monday aimed at pushing to pay their December 2019 salaries.
A spot-check The Nation conducted on Monday showed that in some schools, lessons went on as usual while in others, teachers downed tools.
At least 5 000 teachers have not yet received their December salaries. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology says the affected teachers did not provide details of their national identity (ID) cards on time.
The teachers are among thousands of other civil servants who did not get paid in December as they allegedly failed to submit the ID details which led to their removal from the payroll.
To express their concerns, the teachers yesterday camped at district commissioners’ (DCs) offices in some districts while in others, they submitted petitions to district education managers.
For instance, in Blantyre, while learners in various schools such as Chichiri Primary School were seen learning in the morning, learners in some schools like Ndirande Hill Secondary and Manja Primary schools were sitting idle or playing outside their classrooms.
However, lessons went on undisturbed in the morning at Blantyre Secondary School, St Pius and Nyambadwe primary schools.
When The Nation arrived at the Blantyre DC’s office around 10am, there were a handful of teachers seated outside, singing numerous songs, expressing their anger.
There was also a heavy police presence both outside and inside the gates of the government offices where the office of the DC and other government offices are situated.
In an interview, Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) deputy governor for the South West Education Division Diana Chikumba said it is sad that while teachers are putting much effort in their work, government seems not appreciate it.
Chikumba, who was leading the group of teachers at the DC’s office, said many teachers are struggling to get basic necessities because they have not been paid their salaries.
“Right now most of our colleagues are even failing to send their children to school because they don’t have money,” she said.
Chikumba said the teachers will remain in solidarity with their counterparts who have not received their salaries.
In Nkhotakota, teachers were yesterday divided over the call for a nationwide strike as some were working whereas others started a sit-in.
Spot-checks in some schools in the district established that head teachers had not been notified of the industrial action; hence, instructed the teachers to work.
At Chankhokwe Primary School along Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, teachers were performing their duties but at St Paul’s Primary School, junior teachers defied the head teacher’s call to work as they were seen playing bawo and poker.
Head teacher at the school, Hastings Scott said he had not received official communication from his superiors about the strike; hence, advised teachers to work.
Meanwhile, some students in the district have threatened to stage a vigil at the district education office to force government to act on the matter with speed so that teachers resume their work.
In Chikwawa, learners joined their teachers on their way to the DC’s office where they spent the day singing different songs.
However, many of the teachers were seen leaving the DC’s office premises before the agreed time of 4.30pm.
In Nsanje, few teachers participated in the protests due to rains that fell in the morning.
In Lilongwe, students from Mchesi and Biwi primary schools also joined their teachers in the protests as they were going to the DC’s office where a majority of the teachers from almost all parts of the district had gathered.
At schools such as Kawale LEA, Kaufulu and Lilongwe LEA primary schools, classes were normal despite some teachers joining the sit-in.
In the Northern Region, some learners from Mzuzu Government, Lupaso CDSS and Chibavi were also affected by the sit-in as teachers had also gathered at the DC’s office in solidarity with their colleagues.
In Balaka, hundreds of teachers and pupils from around Balaka town marched in solidarity with the affected teachers.
In a telephone interview later, TUM secretary general Charles Kumchenga said as of yesterday, there was no communication from government on the salaries.
He said: “We have not received any communication today [yesterday] but all in all, we have started staging the peaceful protests and we will not relent until all the teachers affected are paid their salaries.”
But when contacted, Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology Justin Saidi said the affected teachers would start getting their salaries today.
“If you recall in our earlier communication to TUM, we told them that we will start paying the teachers their salaries from tomorrow [today] so all the processes are now done and everything must be ready as earlier scheduled,” he said.
TUM says about 5 000 teachers were removed from the payroll for not submitting the national IDs which led to their removal from the payroll.
However, following TUM’s announcement of the nationwide sit-in on Friday last week, Saidi wrote the teachers, requesting them to suspend the strike as arrangements were being made to pay them on production of the IDs at pay-points.
In 2017, the teachers, who constitute almost half of the 130 000 civil service workforce also staged a strike that paralysed learning in both primary and secondary schools after government delayed to pay them leave grants for the 2016/17 financial year. —Additional Reporting by Davie Mchinga, Mike Kamande and Malawi News Agency