The teaching fraternity in Malawi’s public schools are staging a sit-in strike, demanding bonus pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as better protective equipment.
After a five-week suspension caused by a surge in COVID-19 cases, the country’s schools were due to reopen this week. Teachers reported to work Monday, but refused to begin classes until the government meets their demands for high-risk pay and better safety equipment.
Students at some schools in central Malawi held street protests against the teachers’ strike. However, the striking teachers say working during the pandemic puts them at risk.
Malawi first closed schools in March 2020, well before it confirmed its first three cases of COVID-19 during the first wave of the pandemic. It reopened the schools in September, but classes were suspended again for five weeks in January 2021 because of a surge in COVID-19 that saw some teachers and students infected.
Willy Malimba, president of Teachers Union of Malawi, told Africa24.news that personal protective equipment like face coverings, sanitizers and soap are inadequate in many schools.
“Of course, we saw some schools receiving soap from the government, but for sanitizers, not yet. So, looking at all these situations we are saying, ‘No, the government is not ready to reopen schools,'” Malimba said.
Education minister Agness Nyalonje, would however rebuff Malimba’s assertions in a televised address last Wednesday, saying the government has allocated about $6 million to the schools reopening program.
“My ministry has made money directly to schools through zonal accounts for them to procure soaps, to procure masks, to procure buckets where buckets need replacing, to make sure that when schools open, these things are in place,” Nyalonje said.
A meeting between government authorities and teachers’ representatives was yesterday underway in the capital Lilongwe, to find the best solution to the strike.