Striking Teachers Face Intimidation in Zimbabwe, Unions Say

(Bloomberg) -- Zimbabwean teachers striking to demand higher wages are being intimidated by security agents to show up for work, labor unions said.

The stay-away by educators at state-run schools is fomenting social tensions three weeks after a violent crackdown on anti-government protests left 12 people dead. Teachers are demanding President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration more than quadruple the salaries of its lowest paid workers to offset the highest inflation rate in a decade.

Union officials estimate about three quarters of teachers heeded the call to strike, said Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe. They’re unable to verify those numbers because they’re being blocked from entering schools by police and plain-clothes security forces, he said by phone.

Union leaders have noted “with deep concern the increased visits by state security forces to schools,” Zhou said from Masvingo in southern Zimbabwe. “Youths and other political functionaries are also visiting schools and demanding names of teachers absent from schools whom they claim they will deal with or expel.”

Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment. Education Minister Paul Mavima didn’t answer his phone when Bloomberg called him seeking comment.

‘Lost Week’

The Herald, a state-controlled newspaper, reported on Wednesday that teachers in Harare had ignored the call to strike. It cited Charles Chinosengwa, organizing secretary for the Apex Council, Zimbabwe’s biggest labor-union federation.

At Churchill High School in Harare, the capital, parents were unsure whether any lessons would be held.

“Yesterday, he did not come,” a parent said as she dropped off her son. “This is a terrible term. The other week we lost out due to the stay-away, and now this.”

Thousands of people poured onto the streets of Harare and other major cities such as Bulawayo when the main labor federation called a three-day strike last month after fuel prices were more than doubled to the highest in the world. In addition to the 12 people killed, hundreds of others were injured as the army tried to suppress the riots.

Austerity Measures

Teachers are demanding the government increase the lowest salaries to $1,700 from $400. The cash-strapped government, which is implementing austerity measures to rein in a yawning budget and rampant inflation, has balked at their wage demands.

Some teachers are being intimidated by security forces to ensure they turn up for work, said Sifiso Ndlovu, chief executive officer of the Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, the biggest labor union.

“There is intimidation of teachers and union members” at schools including in the second-biggest city of Bulawayo and in western Zimbabwe, he said. “This is not how we solve problems.”

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