Public primary and secondary school teachers are divided over a Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) calls for a nationwide strike as some are working whereas others started a sit-in on Friday.
The Nation spot checks at some schools in Blantyre and Lilongwe established that business is normal in most of the schools as students are writing their end of year examinations.
Some teachers The Nation talked to in Blantyre said they were not yet sure if the sit-in would materialise as last time it was botched.
The call for the sit-in follows the expiry of the June 30 deadline which TUM gave to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) to resolve teachers’ grievances.
The union cited issues of promotion and salary adjustments of teachers, failure by the ministry to pay secondary school teachers their 2015/16 leave grants and delay in payment of salary arrears for primary school teachers as some of the outstanding grievances.
Newton Chafukira, TUM chairperson for Dedza, said in an interview yesterday that students in the district are not sitting for end of term examinations as teachers have laid down their tools.
However, he said Form Four students have not been affected as TUM ordered all teachers invigilating Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examinations to join the sit-in after the end of the examination.
Reports from Nsanje also indicate that teachers there had joined the sit-in as of yesterday.
In the North, Mzimba South district education manager (DEM) Lemani Mvula and Nkhata Bay DEM Mzondi Moyo both said they had not heard of any school on strike.
However, a teacher in Mzuzu said he believes the strike is going on but the impact cannot be felt because of the MSCE examination in progress.
TUM president Chauluka Muwake said they expect government to implement all their demands, adding the sit-in will continue when schools reopen in September if government fails to meet the demands. The 2015/16 academic year ends on July 15.
Muwake said the union has been having meetings with officials from government but nothing is being done.
He said: “We have waited for too long for them to fulfil their promises but nothing is being done. These issues have been discussed several times and they could have been given priority but instead they are focusing on some other issues.
“Government cannot [say] that it does not have money. Where did it get the money to give members of Parliament [MPs] when they demanded an increment in Constituency Development Fund (CDF)? Teachers, too, are important.”
But commenting on the matter, Treasury spokesperson Nations Msowoya said the amount that is spent on CDF cannot compare to what will be spent on the demands the teachers are making.
While he agreed that salary adjustments for the promoted teachers will have an effect on the already bloated government wage bill currently at K300 billion, Msowoya said Treasury is working on modalities to sort out the issues.
MoEST spokesperson Manfred Ndovi said the ministry is yet to receive official communication from TUM on the strike and map the way forward.
He said the ministry wrote TUM last week asking for more time as the issues raised are handled by different departments.
Said Ndovi: “The issues they raised need time to be implemented because they involve different government departments and agencies such as the National Audit Office, the Human Resources Department and the Treasury. As a ministry, we are also waiting from these departments.”
He was optimistic that in the 2016/17 budget, Treasury will allocate funds to MoEST to sort out the grievances.
Ndovi said as a ministry, they are worried that the strike will disturb admission of end of term examinations which started last week in primary and secondary schools.
But Muwake said MoEST is to blame for any psychological effect the learners may go through due to failure to sit the exams.
In April this year, TUM gave MoEST up to May 9 to resolve teachers’ grievances or face a nationwide sit-in, but the strike was called off after discussions between the two sides.
TUM has a membership of about 37 000 teachers from both public primary and secondary schools against the total teacher population of about 78 000.