As the teachers’ job action has reportedly shaken the corridors of power, the Public Service Commission (PSC) has confirmed that the strike has brought business to a halt in schools country wide. In a new twist of events, the employer further threatened to cease salaries of teachers who are on the legal job action invoking an apartheid like principle of “No work no pay.”
The contested legality of the job action
The Public Service Commission (PSC) claims that discussions between government and the Apex Council are ongoing under the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) and further asserts that Apex has not called for a strike.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) says the said discussions between PSC and Apex have been ongoing from as far back as 2017. These are routine coffee meetings that have no time frames and no clear agenda. The unionists are of the view that teachers cannot be held at ransom through such informal discussions.
“The Apex council and the NJNC framework are now illegal establishments after the consummation of the new constitution. Section 65 of the Constitution of the Republic of Zimbabwe provides for Collective Bargaining as a fundamental right of the working people. Collective bargaining is broader and inclusive of a wide section of the working people of Zimbabwe. However, nearly six years after the adoption of the Constitution, government has dragged its feet with regard to establishing this body, opting for maintaining the exclusive, narrow, minimalist and unconstitutional NJNC route,” ARTUZ said.
It noted that Statutory Instrument 141 of 1997 Public Service (Joint Negotiating Council) Regulations is ultra vires to Section 65 of the Constitution.
The teacher Unions have duly notified the employer of the intended job action. ARTUZ said it notified the employer as early as 31 December 2018. Other Unions did the same later in January and the 14 days required at law have since lapsed.
It follows therefore that the ongoing strike is therefore a protected strike. A protected strike is a strike that complies with the requirements of the law, where the subject matter of the strike is legitimate and procedural requirements are complied with prior to the strike commencing. All striking teachers are therefore safe.
‘The No work No pay principle’
This principle can only be applied in circumstances where the strike action has been ruled illegal. A job action cannot be ruled to be illegal by the employer. The employer can only approach an impartial court to raise a show cause order. The court will then rule on the legality of the job action. The PSC is thus offside on this one.
It should also be noted that a job action can still be sustained outside the legalities of the capitalist legal framework. The recent job action by the doctors is a clear case study. The doctors’ job action was sustained way after the courts had ruled the strike as illegal. At the end the doctors got more concessions from the employer.
The success of a job action is therefore hinged on the ability of the working class to organise and mobilise all workers to withdraw their labour.
ARTUZ urges sister Unions and all teachers to view the PSC threats as a ray of hope. Indeed, the system has been shaken and there is need to mobilise the remaining 18% of the teachers for a complete shutdown, ARTUZ argued.
Teachers’ legitimate demands
The teachers have been doing, “more work with no pay over the years.” In 2012 their salaries were negotiated in United States dollars. The employer has reneged on this agreement by paying teachers in RTGS currency. The employer has not adjusted the RTGS salaries to match the rates prevailing on the market for the RTGS to United States dollars. Consequently a teacher who is supposed to be earning US$500 is now receiving around US$120 per month.
Prices of basic goods and services have soared by a cumulative rate of over 500% and government has responded by awarding an average US$15 as cushioning allowance.
The teachers are demanding their salaries in United States dollars and their 2018 annual bonus in full. The ARTUZ told Spiked Online Media that it is now firmly on the ground mobilising the remaining teachers to leave schools and join the job action.
“The struggle for a living wage continues unabated. As workers we don’t own anything else other than our labour. We cannot volunteer this labour for free. Our labour is our source of livelihood. We once again implore government to come down to the negotiating table.”