By Blessings Mashaya
Restive civil servants — reeling from the country’s precipitous fall in living standards and ever-declining disposable incomes — have warned President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s under-pressure government that they will go on strike next month unless it hikes their salaries massively.
This comes as the ongoing strike by doctors has entered its third week, after the government failed to address their grievances and demands — resulting in operations at public health institutions being severely affected by the industrial action.
Now, the entire government workforce is agitating for either mega pay hikes in bond notes, or to be paid in United States dollars, to cushion civil servants from the country’s ever deteriorating economic environment.
This comes after government recently rejected outright the public servants’ demands to be paid in US dollars.
The Apex Council — which represents hundreds of thousands of civil servants across the public sector — was adamant that the government should pay its workers a minimum of $1 733 or the equivalent in US dollars.
“All the unions have agreed that they will not be able to come to work in January if the government fails to give us a positive response before next month.
“It doesn’t mean that we are calling for a strike, but workers will fail to come to work due to the high cost of living.
“We did a research in November and we are saying the lowest paid civil servant must get something like $1 733 — and we have communicated our position to the government,” Apex Council chairperson Cecilia Alexander told the Daily News.
“If the government fails to give us this amount, they must give us hard cash in United States dollars … In our last meeting, the government showed that they had nothing to offer.
“We tried to tell them that everything has gone up … our salaries have been eroded and that there is thus need to increase workers’ salaries, but nothing came out from that meeting.
“There is no austerity for prosperity if workers are failing to come to work because they don’t have money for transport,” Alexander added.
The warning by civil servants comes as the government has comes under growing pressure from disillusioned citizens over the worsening local economic situation — after Mnangagwa was feted in his early days in office for superintending over arguably the most peaceful elections since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.
Zimbabweans have in the past few months had to contend with rising prices of basic consumer goods and widespread shortages of items such as cooking oil — which have disappeared from supermarket shelves.
Thousands of commuters have also had their travel plans thrown into chaos, due to the current fuel shortages being experienced in the country.
In addition, the strike by doctors has been accompanied by embarrassing claims that they are now using condoms as surgical gloves during medical procedures, due to critical shortages of equipment and consumables.
The doctors are protesting the severe shortages of pharmaceutical drugs at public hospitals — as well as the selling of available drugs in foreign currency by retail pharmacies, the poor state of the country’s hospital infrastructure and their “falling” salaries which they now want the government to pay in foreign currency.
Also at the weekend, panicking authorities arrested teachers who are marching from Mutare to Harare — to protest their poor salaries and conditions of service.
Alexander also said civil servants were not happy with the government’s recent decision to pay their bonuses on the basis of their basic salaries, as well as making them pay vehicle import duty in US dollars.
“The decision to pay bonus on basic salaries is unacceptable to us and amounts to a withdrawal of a benefit. If workers are also going to pay duty in forex, it follows that salaries should be paid in forex.
“This proposal on forex will have the effect of excluding civil servants from buying vehicles and some foodstuffs.
“Our salaries are in RTGS, customs duty is in US dollars … and if we convert our salaries to US dollars on the parallel market we get jailed for 10 years,” Alexander told the Daily News.
Zimbabwe has been reeling from acute shortages of foreign currency for a long time, which have in recent weeks triggered massive price hikes of basic consumer goods.
Authorities claim that the decision to charge vehicle import duty in US dollars is part of needed measures to conserve scarce foreign currency and to curb the influx of second hand car imports — mainly from Japan.
This measure has already seen the government recording a decline in revenue collected from commercial and vehicle imports.
Meanwhile, Mnangagwa himself admitted on Friday that his government was battling to fix the country’s myriad economic problems, as manifested by the continually rising prices of basic goods and the acute shortages of foreign currency and fuel — among many other ills.
However, the Zanu PF leader told his followers at the just-ended Esigodini conference that the government was working hard to try and solve the multiple crises.
“Government, along with industry, continues to dialogue and interrogate the cost build-ups, towards finding lasting solutions which will bring permanent relief to consumers and greater stability to the economy.
“We also need to address the question of our own domestic currency once the correct economic fundamentals are in place,” he said. Daily News