Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) has given government one week to conclude discussions on their Covid-19 risk allowances or face unspecified “drastic action” from the teachers next week.
In an interview, TUM president Willy Malimba said they are surprised that government remains quiet on the matter despite a consent order the two sides having signed on April 12 this year for teachers to resume work and also have a court case that government had opened postponed, pending negotiations.
He also said TUM has since written Capital Hill on the matter.
Since last year, TUM has been demanding Covid-19 allowances and engaging in strikes, but nothing has happened on the discussions since April 12, with Malimba accusing government of playing hide and seek on the matter.
He said: “Teachers feel cheated and less valued by government. Government had all the time to resolve this issue, just calling for the meeting itself is important, whether we agree or not. But one wonders why the whole government would be behaving this way.
“For now, teachers are back in school, but it’s just a formality because they feel duped. We have written government as a matter of procedure, and they have one week to resolve this issue. Government should know that it is poor people who are suffering.”
Malimba said they remain committed to engaging government, hoping the one week ultimatum they have given government will be enough to resolve the issue.
When contacted, Ministry of Education acting Principal Secretary Raphael Agabu declined to comment, saying he was on leave, while the ministry’s spokesperson Chikondi Chimala said the government negotiation team, which is handling the matter, was better-placed to comment.
Efforts to speak to government negotiation team chairperson Patrick Matanda, proved futile as he did not pick our calls on his known number for the past three days.
Meanwhile, education activists and the Chancellor College Academic Staff Union (Ccasu) have decried government’s handling of the matter.
Civil Society Education Coalition (Csec) executive director Benedicto Kondowe in an interview said government was supposed to lead the discussion but it has abdicated responsibility, adding they have since written the Ministry of Education to quickly deal with the matter.
He said: “The dilemma we may find ourselves in is that the stay away might resume during the next term in June, which would be too damaging. If not, TUM might move the Labour Commissioner for reconciliation, because it will be deemed at law that settlement has failed.
“We don’t need to waste any more time. The recent Malawi School Certificate of Education [MSCE] results speak volumes of the impact of the Covid-19-induced school breaks, and no leader would want to have students not attending classes.”
In a letter, Csec has reminded government of its responsibility to promote, protect and fulfil the right to education for all.
It reads: “It is up to the leadership to safeguard the best interest of the child. Government will be in breach of Section 23 (1) of the Constitution of Malawi that states that the best interests of children shall be a primary consideration of all decisions affecting them.
“Similarly, any further disruption [to the school calendar] would also be in direct violation of Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child which reiterates the importance of ensuring the right to education of every child.”
Recently, Ccasu accused government of using underhand tactics in its handling of the labour dispute with TUM to stifle unionism.
In a statement issued on April 28, Ccasu president Tiyesere Mercy Chikapa said such tactics were aimed at taking back the country to an era when unionism was an anathema.
It reads: “Instead of trying to resolve the standoff amicably, Ccasu noted the following strategies meant to frustrate the spirit of unionism: Intimidating the leadership of the union with dismissal; using subtle tactics to divide the leadership of the union;
“Threats to delete from the payroll/withhold pay of teachers who had withheld their labour; efforts to cripple the union financially by threatening to stop collecting union subscription; negation of good faith in negotiations demonstrated by going to court while in the middle of talks and backtracking on a signed agreement.”
The 103 003 teachers under TUM have been demanding a minimum of K50 000 a month in risk allowances, translating to K5.15 billion a month and K15.45 billion for the three months which they wanted the allowance for.
TUM had earlier demanded K35 000 risk allowances for each teacher per month, but after a proposal to have teachers provided with cash equivalent to PPE for three months, the figure was revised to K50 000.
On March 8 2021, the Joint Committee of Education and Social and Community Affairs in Parliament engaged TUM and Ministry of Education to resolve the impasse.
Last year, schools were closed on March 23 for five months following a government order to prevent the further spread of Covid-19 during the first wave.
Early this year, schools were also closed for five weeks following the second wave of the pandemic.
When government announced the re-opening of schools in February, learners in public schools were further affected by the teachers’ strike which went on for two weeks as TUM demanded the Covid-19 risk allowance.