After the announcement President Lazarus Chakwera that schools reopen on 22nd February, Teachers Union of Malawi (TUM) that looks into the welfare of teachers, also announced a sit-in demanding Covid-19 risk allowance and that government provides them with Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).
On Monday when schools finally reopened, students were turned away. A meeting was then called by Chakwera at State House where he met with TUM leadership to discuss the way forward. The outcome of that meeting was quite the opposite of what TUM had expected. Their request was rebuffed on the premise that teachers, unlike health workers, are in the low-risk zone.
Instead of coming out of the State House and speaking with one voice or at least telling teachers the truth about the meeting, as expected, a divided and greedy TUM leadership came back with two contradicting statements; one that the strike has been called off, and the other by the union’s president saying the strike has not been called off.
For those who have been following the dealings of TUM for some time, this was not a surprise at all. TUM in recent years, has become so divided that there is an urgent need for teachers to march against their leadership if their welfare is to be upheld and protected. It seems there some among the TUM leadership that serve their own interests. They come with up threats just to achieve their own interests and not of the teachers whom they claim to represent. How does TUM leadership explain the contradiction between the union’s president and some committee members?
TUM has the audacity to play teachers because they teachers have given their union leadership free rein, they are never taken to task for being divisive and never probed on why a nation-wide strike can just be called off without proper explanation. It’s high time teachers started asked their union’s leadership tough questions. Rumour has it that often the union’s consultations leave a lot to be desired—it’s often done simply to rubber-stamp their decision.
I sympathise with teachers, but I hope they do understand that the country is going through tough times. The government cannot start spending money on allowances that make no sense. Yes, teachers’ welfare needs to be looked into and they do make valid demands but I guess the timing of their demand is a bit off.
It will not be prudent for the government to start spending millions on so-called Covid-19 risk allowances on sectors that are not top on the list of service providers who are at risk of contracting Covid-19 owing to their constant interaction with people.
We are in this together.