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Background to the Existence of the PTUZ

The Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) is a trade union representing over 15,000 teachers and lecturers in state and private schools and colleges. The formation of the PTUZ is a direct reaction to the unfulfilled promises communicated to the masses by Zimbabwe’s liberation movements and the post-1990 economic policies such as the poorly managed Economic Structural Adjacent Programme (ESAP).

At Independence, in 1980, there was a lot of hope in workers that a black government was going to significantly improve the employment relations in order to occasion a fair distribution of labour rights and duties between workers and employers. Teachers too, were hopeful that colonial structures of governance like the Public Service Commission were going to be dismantled or at least reformed to reflect a new political thinking and give effect to new labour laws that would accord teachers and other public servants more employment rights. Alas! This did not happen; in reality the settler regime’s legislative tools of oppression were sharpened and perfected. The deficit in workplace democracy which existed in the colonial epoch was perpetuated by the post-Independent government. In present day Zimbabwe, teachers are not enjoying basic human, labour and professional rights.

The introduction of ESAP in 1992 and other subsequent economic policies consistent with globalisation aggravated the plight of teachers and the country’s education system. The quality of education and the status of teachers declined. Government embarked on financial austerity measures. In the education sector, these measures were manifested through cost sharing arrangements which implied a trade off between private and public expenditure on education. Since 1992, government expenditure on education declined in real terms and parents started to pay more for the whole education spectrum from pre-primary to tertiary education. Teachers’ salaries also plummeted in real terms ever since the inception of ESAP.

In order to address the twin challenge of diminishing fundamental workers’ rights and the declining teachers’ status, classroom practitioners called for the formation of a teacher organisation with the correct ideological apparatus, trade union inertia and liberating power to take them towards their shared vision of working in a country with better working conditions and meaningfully contribute to national development. The PTUZ motto: “VISION AND POWER” is thus issue-driven.

Formation of the PTUZ

The formation of the Union coincided with the commemoration of the World Teachers’ Day, a day set aside to celebrate the signing of the ILO-UNESCO Recommendations Concerning the Status of Teachers on 5 October 1966 by several states. Inspired by the spirit and ideals of this international instrument, acknowledging the absence of fundamental rights that can improve the status of teachers in Zimbabwe and consistent with the call by teachers for a truly teacher-centred trade union, one would certainly acknowledge that the formation of the PTUZ on 5 October 1997 was well intended and not a mere coincidence.

It is worth realising that the trade union space in the education sector, particularly the primary and secondary school sector was not democratised and government amply demonstrated this through the enactment of the Education Act of 1987. In one of the sections, the Act unambiguously stated that the Secretary for Education shall only recognise one teachers’ organisation. This provision, which was later on repealed in 2003, was outside the powers of the Constitution which in Section 21 confers the freedom of association. Forming another teacher’s organisation in light of the 1987 Education Act epitomises the confrontational relationship that exists between the PTUZ and Government.

When PTUZ applied for registration, Government refused to give it a legal identity. The Union had to seek redress at the High Court. After the matter was heard a ruling was passed in the Union’s favour and government was compelled to register the PTUZ. Eventually, the PTUZ was registered by the Minister of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare on 29 March 1999 in terms of section 24 of the Public Service Act [Chapter 16:4] and sections 4 and 5 of Statutory Instrument 45 of 1998 - Public Service [Formation and Recognition of Associations]Regulations, 1998. There are teacher organisations for purposes of self-preservation have misinformed the world that the PTUZ in not recognised by government.