BLANTYRE, MALAWI – Teachers 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.
Malawi’s schools were due to reopen this week, after a five-week suspension caused by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Teachers reported to work Monday, but refused to begin classes until the government meets their demands for high-risk pay and better safety equipment.
In response, students at some schools in central Malawi held street protests against the teachers’ strike.
“The strike is not helping us,” said Misozi Jumbe, a secondary school learner in Dowa district. “Why the teachers were not striking when the schools closed? We open, they start the strike. We want to learn. I am not happy at all.”
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.
Teachers: Safety measures lacking
The striking teachers say working during the pandemic puts them at risk.
Willy Malimba, president of Teachers Union of Malawi, said 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.
Government: Precautions in place
Government authorities previously argued that adequate precautions were being taken.
Education Minister Agness Nyalonje, in a televised address last Wednesday, said 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.
Malimba said Monday he could not say when teachers will resume work.
However, he said, a meeting between government authorities and teachers’ representatives was under way in the capital Lilongwe, to find the best solution to the strike.