Zimbabwe has suspended thousands of striking teachers for three months without pay after civil servants rejected a 20 percent salary increase saying it is paltry.
Schools re-opened on Monday after a month-long delay due to a surge of Covid-19 cases, but teachers at public learning institutions did not report for work as they protested against poor salaries.
Primary and Secondary Education minister Evlyn Ndlovu on Thursday said teachers that had not been reporting for work since schools reopened were being suspended for three months to allow for “investigations”
Unions said the suspensions would affect as many as 135 000 teachers and warned that schools would have to close if the threats are carried out.
“The ministry would like to inform the nation and its valued stakeholders that all officials from the ministry, who absented themselves from duty since the opening of schools on Monday, February 7, have been suspended without pay forthwith for a three-month period,” Ms Ndlovu said.
“During this period, members are not to hinder or interfere with any investigations or evidence relating to the alleged misconduct.
“Appropriate action will be taken against members who abrogate their duties and responsibilities.”
The announcement came a day after the government awarded civil servants, including teachers a 20 percent salary increase, which unions dismissed as falling far short of their demands.
They said the increment amounted to about $20, far below their expectations to be paid at least $541.
Teachers in Zimbabwe earn about $90 a month.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary general of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said their estimates were that 135 000 of Zimbabwe’s 150 000 teachers were on strike.
“We know only 10 percent of the teaching force were turning up for duty,” Mr Majongwe said.
“Effectively, schools would have to close again if the government pushes ahead with this ill-advised move.”
Unions insist that teachers are on strike, but are unable to travel to work, buy food and clothes due to low salaries.
They want the government to pay their members about $540 a month, which they used to earn in 2018 during dollarisation.
Zimbabwe ended a decade of dollarisation in 2019 and started using its own currency.
The Zimbabwe dollar, however, has been on a free fall against the US dollar on Friday a $1 was fetching 200 Zimbabwe dollars on the parallel market.
Obert Masaraure, president of the Almagamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said they members would not return to class despite the threats by the government.
“Teachers have been reduced to paupers, they are living in poverty,” Mr Masaraure said.
“Teachers can’t even afford to pay school fees in the schools where they ordinarily teach.
“They need almost eight months of their salaries to pay for school fees alone. Teachers are fasting to send a child to school.”
Zimbabwe’s education and health sector have in recent years been crippled by regular job boycotts by civil servants who say their working conditions are poor.
The Southern African country is also losing health professionals to overseas and neighbouring countries because of poor pay.