As Parliament chips in to end the deadlock between the government and striking doctors, leaders of a breakaway teachers’ union are seeking audience with the Prime Minister over outstanding payments and poor working environment.

Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda

Top officials of the newly-formed Union of Education Officers in Tanzania (UMET) and members, have already arrived in Dodoma, to seek audience with the Prime Minister, Mizengo Pinda.

The new union registered by the Business Registration and Licensing Agency (BRELA) as a non-profit entity was constituted to follow up the teachers’ demands, according to UMET Vice-Chairman Edmund Nditi.

He said: “This time, teachers have vowed to sacrifice their lives…we will not fear death or any threat from state institutions…we are going to fight for our rights to the last minute.”

He explained that teachers had many demands accumulated for years and the government seems to neglect them.

Even TTU, according to Nditi, which had been tasked to represent the teachers and push state machinery to work on their demands, had failed to execute its duties, subjecting the teachers to continuous suffering.

He said they have decided to abandon TTU and assign the new association, UMET, to lead the battle against the government.

“We are ready to fight against the government…through our new union we are ready to die for our rights. We are not frightened by the government threat to sack us. But we will not stage boycotts, as the medics have done…we will use a different style to corner the government and get our demands worked on,” UMET vice-chairman said.

The union officials, who were yesterday expected to meet the Parliamentary Community Development and Social Services Committee, are also pushing for resignation of executives in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, allegedly for failing to solve teachers’ long standing problems.

Some of UMET officials said they reached the decision after TTU failed to help them out of the prolonged financial and labour crisis, despite collecting a lot of money (being membership fees) from teachers.

UMET chairman Meshack Kapange said: “We came up with the new union and entrusted it with the task of following up our demands after detecting serious weaknesses on the part of TTU. We are confident that the new union will do the work.”

Asked for comment, Gratian Mukoba President of the Tanzania Teachers Union said he was not aware of the new teachers union, expressing doubt that it might have been engineered by the government to undermine the TTU drive.

“With this wind we are having, I am not surprised to see a new Union. In Kenya the same happened some years ago when the Kenyan government established a Union to weaken the existing one, but it failed,” said Mukoba in an interview with The Guardian yesterday.

He said anything can happen. “If they are saying they are going to see the Prime Minister, then it must have been registered. But we shall check with the person who registers the union in Dar es Salaam. But take it from me the government can form a union just to weaken the one in place. We are not shaken,” he stressed.

The government owes teachers billions of shillings — being accumulated allowances, salary arrears, transfer allowances and unpaid promotion dues.

Teachers are also demanding improved working conditions, concerns which were also raised by medical professionals in their ongoing strike that has created public tension and paralysed service delivery in many hospitals.

Industrial actions by public servants appear to be a big test to the government which is currently facing serious financial constraints.

In his official opening remarks at the Law Day celebrations in Dar es Salaam, President Jakaya Kikwete admitted that the “government is overwhelmed by debts besides the serious financial difficulties it is experiencing.

He did not give details, but only said that almost all government departments received less than their budgetary allocations for the first half of the 2011/12 financial year.

By JUDICA TARIMO, The Guardian

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