A showdown is looming between the government of Zimbabwe and its workers who have described the recent USD25 salary increase as a joke and vowed to down tools at the end of this month.
Despite demands for the restoration of the October 2018 salary of USD540, the government Tuesday announced a 25 % wage increase following a meeting of the national joint negotiating committee (NJNC) which the workers described as ‘illegal and discredited’.
Last week, civil servants gave the government a ten-day ultimatum to award them the USD540 salaries they were demanding after Finance and Economic Development Minister, Mthuli Ncube, reneged on his promise to effect the increment in September salaries. The government was given until September 26 to meet their demands or face a full-blown strike by all civil servants. Government reacted by calling the NJNC meeting in a bid to appease the restive workforce, but what it brought to the table was rejected, meaning that the September 26 ultimatum still stands.
The latest increase would bring the USD component of civil servants’ salaries to just USD125, effective September 1, 2022, from the current USD100. This is on top of the USD75 Covid-19 allowance, which workers feel could be discontinued at anytime as the country has relaxed regulations as the number of cases dropped.
But workers, especially teachers, who form the bulk of government employees, have declared war, saying they have been left with no option but to engage in a crippling nationwide strike to force government to fulfill its September salary review pledge.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) spokesperson, Thembakhuye Moyo said government was attempting to resurrect a defunct NJNC in a desperate bid to pacify workers.
“The ‘talks’ at illegal and discredited NJNC did not yield a living wage for the workers. The basic salary is not being improved and civil servants will retire into poverty. Delaying tactics, adjourn, consult and reconvene – the usual cycle. 26 September we proceed with the historic job action!” he said.
He said civil servants had had enough of the lies by government which have always been accompanied by threats of violence, arrests and ultimate dismissal of workers who dared to question the authenticity of the promises.
“The security boys, the pawns are strategically deployed as to perpetuate the workers’ misery. And in misery the workers continue to fight for their rights. The same rights which motivate the real revolutionaries to wage a class struggle for the sons and daughters of Zimbabwe,” Moyo said.
Moyo said while workers continued with organising and mobilising for the 26 September action, the government was, instead of reviewing the salaries as promised by the finance minister, sharpening swords. “All this is in their conclusion that arrests, beatings, dismissals and killings is the language best understood by the poor,” he said.
Moyo said the USD125 component was not part of their basic salaries but an unnamed allowance which could be withdrawn at any time, adding that their decision to demand the USD540 was bench marked by the 90 US cents which was the price of bread in 2018.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, Takavafira Zhou said the USD25 increase on allowances was an insult to civil servants as it falls far short of their minimum expectations of the restoration of the purchasing power parity of the USD540 they earned in 2018.
“The best way forward is collective job action by civil servants in order to send an undiluted message to government that civil servants are angry, apprehensive and wallowing in poverty,” he said.
ZCTU Secretary General, Japhet Moyo, however, said what the government presented was an offer which the civil servants should then respond to. “The civil servants will obviously respond to the offer and that is part of the collective bargaining process. We understand civil servants wanted more and negotiations are still ongoing with the view to arrive at an acceptable level,” he said.
The impending strike is now threatening another disruption to learning at primary and secondary schools across the country following more than two years of intermittent stoppages caused by teachers’ strikes and Covid-19 restrictions.
Calls for the dollarisation of the economy have been growing in the country, which now has the highest food inflation rate in the world.