By Blessed Mhlanga/Garikai Tunhira
Zimbabwe’s public sector unions yesterday demanded that government pays their wages in United States dollars and threatened to go on strike, adding to the problems facing President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration as it struggles to revive the economy.
A meeting held between the representatives of workers and government under the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) yesterday reached an impasse, with striking health workers vowing to continue their job action until their demands were met.
Nurses have been on strike for two weeks, leaving public hospitals facing a personnel crisis in the face of rising COVID-19 infections.
It also came out that government had promised its partners in the Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) that it would ditch the local currency and redollarise if it failed to stabilise the exchange rate by end of June this year.
Last month, the government offered its workers a 50% salary increase and a US$75 monthly allowance for three months in an attempt to head-off a strike, but the unions rejected it as insufficient in the face of soaring consumer prices.
Annual inflation stood at 785,55% in May piling pressure on a population struggling with shortages and reviving fears of a return to the hyperinflationary era of a decade ago.
“The position of the civil servants is very clear, government is collecting taxes in US$, they collect duties in US$, but they don’t want to pay workers in the same,” a top civil servant told NewsDay after the meeting yesterday.
“Any salary adjustment in Zimbabwe dollar will not help us because before we even get the increase, prices will have increased leaving our salaries at the same place before the increase.”
Government proposed discussing the proposals by workers to the TNF which includes representatives of labour unions and the private sector, but civil servants accused their employer of trying to buy time.
“The Civil Service Apex Council will from henceforth not participate in any negotiation in which the Zimbabwe dollar will be the subject given the local currency has been rejected by the economy,” the council said in statement yesterday.
The Apex Council said government offered nothing new during the NJNC.
“The government side did not bring any new offer, but rather regurgitated what is already public knowledge, that is, the 50% cost of living adjustment across the board and US$75 offered by government as a compassionate gesture. There was no mention of any figure of $8 000 as announced on television or any agreement to forward matters for the TNF,” the statement read.
Public Service Commission secretary Jonathan Wutawunashe, in a statement, said the NJNC could not resolve the issue of paying salaries in US dollars without involving other partners in the TNF.
“It was appreciated that the current economic environment could not be resolved in a bi-party arrangement, such as the NJNC, but could be discussed more comprehensively in the TNF. This was in recognition of the vicious cycle of raising salaries, followed by an immediate adjustment in retail prices, and did not support an approach that could leave out critical players who are part of the TNF,” Wutaunashe said, adding that government hoped that the meeting would be held in the first two weeks of July
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president Peter Mutasa, who is part of the TNF, said government had promised to ditch the local currency this month if stabilisation efforts failed.
“We will be happy to remind government of its commitment to dump the local currency especially since they have failed to stabilise it. Workers are suffering, prices are chasing the rate, commodities are being sold in US$, but the workers’ salaries are not going up at the same rate, that needs to be addressed, otherwise we are left with no option but to mobilise against this modern time slavery,” he said yesterday. News Day