The Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) is one of the oldest professional labour organisations in Malawi. It represents and speaks for all teachers in primary, secondary schools, and teachers’ colleges on matters relating to conditions of service and professional development.
As a membership labour organisation, TUM is theoretically a powerful unarmed organisation that can lead to the downfall of a government if it decided to withhold its members labour perpetually.
TUM started as the Teachers Association of Malawi (TAM) during the first Malawi Congress Party (MCP) administration when unions were not allowed to operate in Malawi and changed its name to TUM after we, who fought for the change being abused today, won.
To be a member of TAM, and now TUM, all teachers were deducted monthly or annual contributions from source. Each payslip indicated, and still indicates, a deduction that goes into the TUM account. Some people now claim that currently teachers in public schools are forcibly deducted K600 per month, or per quarter or per annum, in TUM membership fees. TUM sits on a lot of financial resources exacted from over 600 thousand teachers, who deserve an effective union.
Like during TAM years, the role of TUM in improving the welfare and professional development of its members has been negligible.
There have been times when teachers’ salaries have been delayed because the state has allegedly diverted it to other important urgent chores, such as presidential tours ad travels abroad, TUM has sat there phwi. There are teachers that have not been promoted for years—10 years in some cases, but TUM has sat there like a pregnant elephant. There have been times when teachers been denied opportunities to upgrade, but TUM has sat there like a drunken football goalkeeper.
Even when teachers have upgraded themselves academically, using their own resources, to get diplomas and bachelor’s or master’s degrees, TUM has sat there palms-a-cheek like a puzzled chess player while the government is questioning why the teachers decided to upgrade themselves.
Even when teachers have been arbitrarily transferred for political and tribal reasons, TUM has witnessed the transfers with a puerile smile.
From TAM to TUM, the organisation has failed teachers. The major problem has been its leaders who have often started very well stridently defending and promoting the affairs and welfare of teachers but have ended up on the side of the employers.
Many TUM leaders have themselves been meteorically promoted as one way of smoothly bribing them to stop talking too much about improving the teachers’ lot. The bribed leaders support their employer to continue mistreating teachers. The non-bribed ones are left behind leaking their wounds. And the UDF mastered this divide-and-rule tactic, which successor governments have also used to the detriment of teachers.
Over the years, some TUM leaders have been bribed with vehicles, party positions, and other freebies as the constituency that put them into the limelight has remained behind feeling desperate.
In the current fight for Covid-19 risk allowances, which others, including Cabinet ministers and opposition leaders and doctors and nurses, have received in huge envelopes, teachers will lose because the leadership is already, as expected, divided with some supporting the government.
Then there are self-appointed anti-allowance economists explaining why paying teachers is wrong, citing incurring a huge bill. These anti-allowance economists seem to have been on planet Saturn when it was revealed that the K6.2 billion released by government to fight Covid-19 was mostly expended on allowances to people who risked nothing. But now that teachers are involved, the economists are back on earth to argue against paying teachers.
All this is happening because TUM is a failed organisation that has no raison d’etre for its existence. TUM has failed and betrayed teachers.
And typical of a union that does not know its role during such industrial actions, TUM is sitting on membership fees estimated to be in multiples of billions of kwacha collected over 40 years of its existence and does not know what to do with it.