Malawi: Teachers’ strike and student support force government to pay salary arrears
Teachers in Malawi finally received their December 2019 salaries, thanks to strike action organised by the Teachers' Union of Malawi.
On 20 January, the education union called on teachers for a nationwide strike to force Malawi’s government to pay the December 2019 salaries.
Around 5,000 teachers, from primary up to tertiary education, were not paid after being removed from the payroll. In July 2019, the government demanded that national identity cards be submitted in order to process civil servant salaries. Teachers were removed from the payroll in December 2019 because they allegedly had not shown their IDs to the public authorities responsible, said Charles Kumchenga, General Secretary of the Teachers' Union of Malawi.
This demand for identification was introduced in a bid to get rid of so-called “ghost workers” – people falsely included on the payroll. “We started demanding IDs so that we do not pay the wrong people,” said Justin Saidi, Principal Secretary at the Ministry of Education.
There are around 80,000 teachers working in Malawi’s public schools. “In fact, teachers submitted their ID cards, but the latter got lost in governmental hands, so teachers got penalised at the end,” Kumchenga said.
As of 23 January, teachers in only 10 districts out of 34 had received their December salaries.
Following the call for a strike, thousands of public school teachers stayed away from classrooms. Teachers who had already received their December salaries joined in the protest in solidarity with their colleagues. Students from primary and secondary schools also demonstrated or held vigils to force their government to pay their teachers.
Positive negotiation with the government
“This time, the government has responded positively after negotiating with our union delegation, and agreed to pay all teachers their December salaries very soon,” said Kumchenga.
He acknowledged the support of students who saw their right to education denied, as teachers were out of school demonstrating and protesting.
“Students realised that they were not learning, because teachers were not paid and not in schools,” he underlined. “We are glad that students joined in the strike, took to the streets, singing songs urging the government to pay the teachers, so that teachers can go back to their schools and start doing again what they like the most: teaching their students.”
End of strike
On 24 January, the union called for an end to the strike. “Firstly, we got satisfaction with the agreed payment of all December salaries. And secondly, some people were looking forward to taking advantage of the strike.
The opposition is instrumentalising people in villages damaging properties – for example shops or banks – during demonstrations to tarnish the image of the government,” Kumchenga added.