Some concerned teachers in the country have cried foul over monthly deductions meant for Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) membership fee when they are not members.
The teachers in a letter to TUM leadership want the union to stop the deductions and publish names of its membership for transparency and accountability sake.
In a letter dated September 28 2020, copied to ministries of Education and Labour, the disgruntled teachers fault the union for making membership compulsory.
Section 7(2) of TUM constitution states that every teacher registered as such in the register of teachers in Malawi shall be eligible for admission to the union as a full member, but upon completion of the membership registration form and payment of subscription fee.
But thousands of teachers in primary and secondary schools as well as teacher training colleges (TTCs) are deducted K500 at source every month as TUM membership fee.
One of the concerned teachers based in Blantyre, Christopher Padambo, said he did not register or sign a form to be a TUM member. He said was employed in 2014 and since then has been deducted the TUM membership fee every month.
However, Padambo said he was surprised when he asked TUM for financial support for a teachers activity at his school when the union declined to help them.
“We had a small activity last month as teachers in our area and needed K20 000 to do some placards. When we asked TUM for assistance, we were told the union has no money and we had to source the funds on our own.
“[Yet] we are being deducted money every month. The union is failing to assist us with just K20 000!” he said.
In an interview, TUM secretary general Charles Kumchenga admitted that there are many teachers who are not TUM members but are being deducted the K500 membership fee every month.
“Some of the teachers filled membership forms 15 or 20 years ago, and they may have forgotten [that they are TUM members] and that is why they are complaining that they are being deducted the membership fee.
“Of course, there are some teachers who did not fill the forms and they are many, and our request is that such teachers should contact zonal or district leadership or divisional leadership to withdraw their membership,” he said.
Kumchenga also explained that the union is on a shoe-string budget because it does not receive all the monthly subscriptions paid by teachers.
“Government mostly releases part of the money due to budget constraints,” he said.
The TUM SG could not disclose the current number of members, arguing the list is still being vetted as some teachers have retired over the years.
He also could not disclose how much the union is collecting from teachers as membership fee annually, saying the information is not for public consumption.
But information we sourced from Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) shows that there are about 80 000 teachers in the country, out of which 50 000 are members of TUM.
This translates to K25 million monthly and K300 million a year.
Meanwhile Csec has also engaged TUM on the grievances and is advising the union to expeditiously address the concerns to make sure that all errors are corrected.
Csec executive director Benedicto Kondowe in an interview observed that TUM’s mandate rests on the premise of voluntary association, adding that TUM is not a regulator to be imposing certain decisions.
He said: “Our view has always been that involvement of teachers in TUM activities is voluntary, so on that basis if the union is to generate a monthly fee from a teacher it has to be purely based on consent, and that consent has to be manifested by duly filling the forms.”
Kondowe explained that TUM ought to have come up with a consolidated list of its members which should be forwarded to Ministry of Education and the same be taken to Treasury to give instructions to Auditor General(AG) for purposes of effecting deductions.
He said the current arrangement where deductions are effected at source is faulty.
“The sooner this is done the better, because the issue has the potential of disrupting the noble functions of TUM. Teachers need a body like TUM to maintain their collective voice but the union must operate within the law,” said Kondowe.