The President Emmerson Mnangagwa-led administration is in a serious predicament following demands by the country’s civil servants to be paid salaries indexed at US Dollar interbank exchange rate, a development that has thrown negotiations between the government and its employees into a deadlock.
The lowest-paid government worker is getting a gross income of ZW$1023, an equivalent of US$46.50, according to the obtaining exchange rate, something that has left unions with no choice but to demand more from their employer.
Zimbabwean civil servants remain the poorly remunerated and lowest paid in Southern Africa, with domestic workers in neighbouring countries such as South Africa and Botswana getting more than most of the country’s professionals in the public service.
Following protracted negotiations on the cost of living adjustment between government and its workers last week, the former offered a 97 percent increase that would see the lowest-paid worker earn a paltry income of ZW$2033, an equivalent of US$92,40, which was immediately rejected by the Apex Council on Friday.
The Apex Council is an umbrella body representing all the civil servants in Zimbabwe.
Civil servants were not moved either by the ZW$750 January cushioning allowance, which the government promised to pay this week, resulting in the negotiations ending in a stalemate.
In their meeting in Harare Monday, civil servants’ unions reiterated, there was no going back on salaries indexed at US Dollar interbank exchange rates, with the lowest-paid employee expected to earn an equivalent of US$475 as was the case in October 2018, before the local currency began depreciating.
“The Government should respond to our position paper, presented to them in 2019 whose substantive demand is that October 2018 salary of US$475 for the lowest paid civil servant must be multiplied by the ongoing interbank rate,” explained Apex Council chairperson Cecilia Alexander.
“An interbank rated salary is the only way to restore the value of wages. Any other interventions would not work given the hyperinflationary environment which negates any RTGS dollar increase.”
Finance Minister, Mthuli Ncube, said while the government had other pressing needs to address, they were looking at resolving the issue of civil servants’ salaries.
“I don’t think raising civil servants’ salaries will or can solve their problems because almost every time their salaries have been raised, they’ve been eroded to nothing overnight,” said social analyst, Sipho Nyoni.
“The fundamental issue remains that of government addressing the root cause of this economic malaise, hence strengthening the currency, investor confidence and stabilising prices. If anything, raising salaries of civil servants has always had a counter effect on the economy, as their salaries account for a large chunk of the budget.”
Another social commentator, Rejoice Ngwenya, said he did not foresee the government succumbing to the workers’ demands.
“If they have no respect for doctors, they have no heart and the deadlock exposes the workers’ inability to take action,” said Ngwenya.