Civil servants mull mega strike
By Helen Kadirire
A crippling strike by government workers is in the offing after President Robert Mugabe’s broke administration reiterated to stressed civil servants earlier this week that it would not be able to pay most of its employees their June salaries.
A lengthy meeting on Wednesday involving government ministers, civil servants’ representatives and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya failed to resolve the salaries crisis, prompting union leaders to plan the mooted mass action.
Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira confirmed to journalists after the meeting that the government could only pay some of the salaries for civil servants in July, a development that public sector workers’ representatives said was insensitive to their welfare, and considering their recurring obligations such as rentals.
Speaking in an interview with the Daily News yesterday, Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said teachers would not allow the government to take advantage of them anymore.
“Teachers are demanding that the traditional pay dates should not shift and spill over into another month. If they do not pay us by June 28, we will not go to work,” Majongwe warned.
Zimbabwe Democratic Teachers’ Union president George Mushipe said his union would map a concrete way forward soon, after consulting with its members.
“There is no apology to make if that money is not there on the dates that they promised. All we want to know is how they will ensure that teachers report for duty without being paid. Our actions stand guided by the Apex council,” he said
Apex council president Cecelia Alexander said they were insisting that workers salaries should be paid as previously advised.
“The workers we represent have continued to demand that salaries be paid on the traditional dates. As workers, we still hold on to that position,” Alexander said.
Despite its recent propaganda to the contrary, the Zanu PF government admitted last week that it was so broke that it could not manage to pay all civil servants their June salaries.
The embarrassing admission was contained in a Treasury circular that announced that the government would once again stagger the pay of civil servants this month, with most of them to receive their salaries only in mid-July.
According to the communiqué, the Zimbabwe National Army and Air Force of Zimbabwe will get their salaries on June 27, the Zimbabwe Republic Police and Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services on June 30 and teachers only on July 7.
The health sector and the rest of the civil service will only get their June salaries deep into next month, on July 14 — while pensioners will have to wait as far as July 19 for their June pensions.
Earlier last week, the hard-working but much-harassed Mangudya, said the government was taking a number of measures to mitigate the country’s escalating cash and liquidity crisis.
In the meantime, and with the country teetering on the brink of another ginormous economic meltdown, akin to the horror experienced in 2008, there are growing fears that ordinary Zimbabweans are becoming increasingly restless and that this could soon blow up into deadly riots.
Concerned analysts who have spoken to the Daily News said the ongoing cash shortages and long bank queues, looming food shortages, the threatened ban on the importation of basic commodities, an inevitable rise in basic food prices and the broke government’s failure to pay angry civil servants their June salaries did not bode well for continuing peace and stability in the country.
They said it was telling that normally pliant and peace-loving Zimbabweans had rioted against the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority in Beitbridge at the weekend, after President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government suddenly banned the importation of basic commodities — threatening the livelihood of tens of thousands of people and their families who live off street vending.
Economist Witness Chinyama said unless the government introduced measures to boost local industry — currently operating at a lowly 30 percent capacity — Zimbabweans should brace themselves for food shortages and massive hikes in the prices of basic commodities.
“A total embargo on the importation of basic goods will be painful to consumers who would be forced to buy local products at higher prices,” he said emphatically.
This was after Industry minister Mike Bimha invoked Statutory Instrument 64 of 2016 last Friday, banning the importation of coffee creamers, Camphor creams, white petroleum jellies, body creams, baked beans, potato crisps, cereals, bottled water, mayonnaise, salad cream, peanut butter, jam, maheu, canned fruits and vegetables, pizza bases, yoghurts, flavoured milk, dairy juice blends, ice-creams, cultured milk and cheese, among other products.
Chinyama said while the measures could breathe a new lease of life into local producers who were struggling to stay afloat due to stiff competition from imports, “in the absence of competition, chances are very high for local companies to effect price increases to match their high production costs”.
This was more so given that the recent import duty increase on cooking oil products had seen local retailers hiking their product prices from $2,99 per two litres, to an average of $3,60 as producers failed to meet demand.
Other economists have also previously warned that food prices were set to rise substantially due to looming shortages and the severe drought that has left more than 5,5 million people in need of food aid.
Veteran economist John Robertson was among those who said yesterday that the latest government intervention to ban the importation of some commodities would result in the acute shortage of basic goods, reminiscent of the 2008 era, as local companies had no capacity to fill the gap that was being filled by imports.
“Scarcity generates high prices and this often leads to a rise in black market, which will make life very difficult for ordinary citizens,” he said.
Robertson said the government should have put basic market fundamentals in place, to ensure that local industries were operating at full capacity before banning some imports.
“If we had enough time, perhaps industry could be revived, but that would all be dependent on fresh capital for retooling.
“Considering the fact that our government is broke and failing to meet its own wage bill, this capital can only come from foreign investors who, at this stage, would not want to hear about the indigenisation policy, government interference and lack of respect for property rights,” he said.
Other observers say Zanu PF’s seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars have not helped matters, throwing spanners into the government’s half-baked programmes and thereby dealing a hammer blow to efforts to rescue the country’s dying economy.
Previously seen as a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe’s fortunes have plummeted precipitously over the past two decades, to the extent that today the country is viewed as a much-derided basket case.
In 2008, some soldiers looted shops in Harare when their pay was delayed, at the height of Zimbabwe’s hyper-inflation crisis that was triggered by the government’s much-criticised fast track land reforms.
During that horror-laced period, inflation accelerated to more than 500 billion percent according to the International Monetary Fund. Daily News