11 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Engage Civil Servants Over Salary Adjustment


For a long time now, the start of the year or a school term is usually marked by threats of a strike and complaints over poor conditions of service by civil servants. The employer-employee relationship appears to have been replaced by one of an uneasy coalition where communication between parties is poor and there is generally a lack of utmost good faith.

It would seem the beginning of this year has been no exception as civil servants unions are already mobilising members as they consider their options in light of a lack of clear communication from Government on their promised salary adjustment.

In a story in our yesterday's edition, civil servants said they were still in the dark regarding the increment that the Government would give them this month, a few weeks from their pay date.

The civil servants raised the same complaint last year when Finance Minister Tendai Biti, announced that they would get inflation-adjusted salaries this year.

The major worry of the civil servants, which we feel is justified, is that they did not negotiate anything with their employer, making whatever would come their way, an imposition by the Government.

This, they argue, was not in the spirit of good labour relations since in the past salary increases were announced under the National Joint Negotiating Council following negotiations between workers and the employer.

Civil servants' representatives have called for Government to convene a meeting to resolve the issue of salaries, which the workers want to be above the poverty datum line.

The least paid Government employee gets US$296 and the poverty datum line is more than US$600.

"There is no communication, but what our constituents need at the moment is to know what is in store for them.

"We are disgruntled and it is better for Government to urgently address our issues rather than surprise us on pay day," said Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Mrs Tendai Chikowore.

We believe Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga, should act as the link between the Government and its employees, by being in touch with the Public Service Commission and the workers' representatives to ensure that Government business is not unnecessarily disrupted by strikes that could easily be avoided through an improvement in communication.

Minister Matibenga has consistently declined comment on matters involving civil servants and even the inflation-adjusted salaries were announced by Minister Biti last year.

We, therefore, wonder what role she plays in Government especially now when clouds of discontent are gathering in the civil service, threatening a season of strikes and further straining of relations.

We learn that it is the "Public Service Commission that knows the actual amount that will be paid to the workers" as if the workers have no right to know what their employer will pay them.

Is the PSC not a creation of Government?

We find this very strange and it is our view that it does not bode well for Government to shut all communication channels with civil servants since they play a major role in the economic well-being of the country.

We surely do not wish to go back to the days when teachers and other professionals such as nurses went on strike leading to suffering of pupils and patients.

The sooner there is meaningful engagement between the civil servants and the Government the better for the nation.

We believe civil servants have tried to put their house in order and that the Government should reciprocate the gesture by engaging the workers' representatives on issues of working conditions so that they bring to an end the long standing adversarial relationship.

The parties must give dialogue a chance and ensure they do not spread despondency among the civil servants since the last thing we need is industrial action by civil servants as if affects many innocent souls in a bad way.

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