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Tough times ahead for rural area-based government teachers

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Teachers in rural areas should brace for harder times as the majority of them could be withdrawn from the list of recipients of rural teacher hardship allowance effective December 2022.

This is so because the World Bank, which supports the programme, is reviewing it after noting that it has not been fulfilling its aim of attracting and keeping teachers in rural schools.

Under the new guidelines, rural schools have been further categorised into most remote, remote and not remote, with teachers in the most remote areas expected to be getting K30,000 while those working in remote will be getting K10,000.

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Those deemed to be working in non-remote areas will be withdrawn.

Teachers Union of Malawi President Willie Malimba said while the decision to increase the allowance package for teachers based in most remote areas was welcome, it would have been good if allowances for teachers falling in the new “not remote” category were maintained.

“The expectation of everyone is to see their salaries increasing not decreasing. What we are facing is that teachers’ salaries will be reduced and this is coming at a time we are already complaining that the salaries have been reduced due to the new Pay As You Earn tax measures,” he said.

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On Labour Day, which falls on May 1, President Lazarus Chakwera assured Malawi Congress of Trade Unions (MCTU) leaders that he would engage Ministry of Finance officials to address concerns that some workers have raised over government’s recent revision of Paye.

MCTU leaders argue that the development would eat into employees’ little disposable incomes.

Though the tax-free band was maintained at K100 000, the government revised upwards other tax brackets, with those earning between K100,000 and K330,000 taxed at 25 percent, those earning between K330,000 and K3 million taxed 30 percent while those earning between K3 million and K6 million are being taxed 35 percent.

Those earning above K6 million are being taxed 40 percent.

“Even though the budget was already passed [by Parliament], we can find some modalities without disturbing the budget in a bid to assist Malawians,” Chakwera said.

Labour Minister Vera Kamtukule also said they had taken up the issue of Paye and would engage the Ministry of Finance and the government’s tax adviser, Malawi Revenue Authority (MRA), and other stakeholders on the issue.

MCTU President Charles Kumchenga said the Paye structure would hurt the majority of employees who are in the middle-income bracket.

“Apart from Paye, the government should work on the cost of living, which is high in the country. We want the head of State to act on the issue,” he said.

And, Tuesday, Malimba concurred with Kumchenga on the issue of cost of living.

He, could, however not be drawn to provide the number of teachers likely to be withdrawn from the list but said over 75 percent of teachers were on course to being withdrawn.

“The problem is that it is not the government which pays the hardship allowances. If it were the government, we would have asked it to maintain the current allowance and increase that for the remote and most remote teachers,” he said.

Malimba, however, conceded that the hardship allowance had not led to the retention of teachers in rural areas, saying K10,000 is “too little”.

He said instead of attaching the allowance to individual teachers’ salaries as is in the current system, the hardship allowance will, from December, be allocated to schools and teachers will be getting the money right there.

“What was happening, in some cases, is that some teachers could get transferred from rural areas but continue getting hardship allowance. This time around, the allowance will be right there. If you leave that school, you will leave the allowance there,” the teachers’ leader said.

Quality education advocate Benedicto Kondowe said there was a need for transparency and fairness when categorising schools.

“We understand that some schools will be removed from the list, which will likely not go down well with teachers in those schools, but what is important is that there must be transparency, accountability and fairness.

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