The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Civil Servants' Plight - Trust Should Bind Negotiations

The sustainability of institutional integrity is largely dependent on how an organisation gains and strives to nurture trust with fellow stakeholders.

Since institutions' existence is also modelled around their interests and the protection thereof, it is incumbent upon institutions such as Government that repose so much of the public's trust, to be seen to be earning and deserving of that trust.

Relations between Government and its workers have been strained for a long time now due to the dispute over conditions of service, chief among these the salaries paid to civil servants.

Since 2009 when the country introduced the multi-currency system the gulf between the civil servants and their employer has been widening at an alarmingly unhealthy rate with workers' suspicions eating away the little trust that existed between the parties hence making communication between the employer and employees difficult.

It is against this background that civil servants are livid that the Minister of Finance Tendai Biti announced a proposed inflation-based salary increment for them next year without consulting them.

The civil servants feel that the announcement by the minister goes against the spirit of the negotiating framework of which Government is part, and whose processes have wobbled seemingly due to the lack of good faith by the two parties involved.

Salary increments for civil servants are negotiated and agreed under the National Joint Negotiating Council, where Government and workers' representatives are represented. In the absence of consultation we believe workers would be justified in feeling that the other party in the NJNC was being arrogant.

"Government has not consulted or negotiated with us. We do not know what the package includes.

"It simply shows that he (Biti) does not respect the negotiating framework that Government purports to have put in place," said Apex Council chairperson Mr David Dzatsunga.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Mrs Tendai Chikowore described Minister Biti's announcement of an inflation related salary increment in January as "arrogant" noting that they were forwarding their position paper to be incorporated in the national budget to be presented next week.

As the workers' representatives fire missiles at the Finance Minister, further adding fuel to the already smouldering bridges, we wonder where the minister responsible for the Public Service Lucia Matibenga is hibernating and how she is communicating (if at all) the Government's position to civil servants.

It would appear since the minister was sworn in there has never been constructive engagement with civil servants as the workers have been snubbed several times by the minister who prefers to maintain her silence even when things are obviously off-track.

There is a serious need for the Government and the civil servants representatives to find each other and begin to treat each other with respect as they work towards rebuilding genuine trust that has been smothered by suspicion that has been allowed to feed off poor communication between parties.

It should be understood that civil servants are not against an increment, but they consider it unacceptable to have an increment imposed on them when there are clear channels to negotiate such awards.

With a week to go before the announcement of the budget, workers have reason to believe that there shall be an imposed increment since the budget that will cover their salary adjustment should be ready by now before any consultation with the Government over the amount.

However, it shall take the two parties to remedy the situation and both parties need to be driven by the national interest whereby there is transparency in the negotiations so that workers understand why they cannot get what they are demanding and Government on the other hand, justifies and understands why workers need the amounts they are demanding.

The series of strikes that has hit the civil service in recent years have been a result of poor communication that has been nibbling at the trust levels, seriously compromising the integrity of the responsible parties and trying the patience of taxpayers who are intermittently denied service as they are caught in between the warring parties.

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