Zimbabwe civil servants fighting a losing battle


I was chatting with a teacher from one of the rural schools yesterday and asking if she is going back to work, in view of the stalemate between the government and unions representing civil servants.

She lives in Bulawayo and teaches at a rural school some 120 km from the city.

Her answer surprised me. “Chero zvazvaita,” she said, meaning she was returning to work whatever the outcome of the talks.

Zimbabwe’s civil servants on Friday rejected a 97 percent salary increase which would have seen the lowest paid government worker earning $2 023 a month.

Their union said they wanted the government to pay the least paid worker the equivalent of $475 in October 2018. This translates to about $7 600 at the current interbank rate.

With the poverty datum line now at $3 700, the demand by the civil servants seems reasonable, but Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube has repeatedly said the government has to live within its budget.

Government ministries had requested a budget for $136 billion for 2020 but revenue was only going to be $58.6 billion so he cut the budget to $63.6 billion leaving a deficit of only $5 billion.

Ncube says the three things that keep him awake at night are food -no Zimbabwean should starve despite the hunger gripping the country, power- people should continue to receive electricity, and currency stability- the value of the Zimbabwe dollar must be preserved at all costs.

Zimbabwe’s civil servants therefore seem to be headed for a showdown with the government and this is a battle they are not likely to win.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has so far demonstrated that it is not going to bow down to pressure from civil servants by paying them what it has not budgeted for.

Doctors, the most critical workers in the country, have been on strike since 3 September but the government has refused to give in to their demands.

The key word seems to be WORK. Mnangagwa and Mthuli Ncube are saying, they understand the workers’ problem but the government and workers must talk while they continue to work.

“We appreciate the work that they do; teachers, nurses and everyone else. We always stand ready as government to listen, to support them as they support the country and support their families,” Mthuli Ncube said last week.

This is how things should be; people work while they continue to negotiate instead of downing tools. If people are productive, there is no reason why they should not be paid.

But in Zimbabwe there seems to be a sense of entitlement by everyone, people demanding bonuses as if they are a right, salary increases that are not based on productivity, and the crazy of linking everything to the US dollar.

Indeed people should be paid decent salaries, but ate those representing workers genuine about ending their plight. Surely, it makes sense that someone gets double the salary while negotiations continue than to flatly turn that down.

Workers must also start questioning whose interests their union leaders really represent. Last year, it was reported that a union boss was earning 20 times the salary of a member, is this fair?

To make matters worse while that union leader asks members to go on strike, and thus forfeit their little salaries, the union member is paid a bonus for organizing a successful strike in addition to his or her salary that is 20 times that of the person the leader has asked to go on strike.



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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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