The Herald (Harare)

24 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Govt Turns Down Civil Servants' Request

GOVERNMENT has turned down a request by civil servants' unions to recognise the old Apex Council to spearhead salary negotiations. Civil servants' unions recently wrote to Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga imploring her to give a fresh three-month mandate to the old Tendai Chikowore-led executive to revive salary negotiations.

Minister Matibenga, however, turned down the request and ordered the workers' representatives to legally reconstitute the body that represents civil servants.

This comes at a time the union leaders are expected to meet Minister Matibenga today to get an update on salaries and working conditions.

There have been no meaningful negotiations for the past 11 months due to squabbles among the civil servants' unions.

The unions wanted the old committee to negotiate for the next three months while they put their house in order.

But Minister Matibenga on Tuesday wrote to the unions ordering them to reconstitute the Apex Council for salary negotiations to resume.

She said according to the Public Service Act, the other option was for the civil servants to re-appoint the old Apex Council for the next two years instead of three months.

"Reference is made to your letter dated January 3 2013 concerning your request for the recognition of the old Apex Council negotiating team," read the letter.

"Please be advised that Statutory Instrument 141/97 has no provision for 'provisional recognition' of the Apex Council for 'three months' as per your request."

Minister Matibenga said the legal term limit for all National Joint Negotiating Council leaders was two years.

The NJNC is a platform that brings to the negotiating table civil servants' unions and Government negotiators.

"Instead, Sub-section (5) of section 3 of the same provision provides that 'the term of the members of the Joint Negotiating Council shall be two years and members shall be eligible for re-appointment," the letter read.

"You are therefore advised that the team of negotiators with names you have just submitted may not be 'provisionally recognised for three months' as per your request but may be re-appointed for two years in terms of the above-cited provisions."

Minister Matibenga said in terms of Section 3 (2) (b), the Apex Council should appoint nine members to represent civil servants at the NJNC.

The term of office for the Apex Council, led by Mrs Chikowore, expired in February last year and the unions held elections that were dismissed by other unions as unconstitutional.

The polls had brought in a new leadership under College Lecturers' Association of Zimbabwe president Mr David Dzatsunga.

Zimta chief executive Mr Sifiso Ndlovu said they wanted Minister Matibenga to unlock the process of negotiating.

"Currently there is no NJNC, meaning there are no negotiations taking place. According to the law, the minister might not have power over conditions of service because that role is executed by the Public Service Commission," he said.

"We want the minister to facilitate that negotiations take place because we have no direct link with the PSC.

"Government is aware that we should have negotiations but it is dilly-dallying probably because they are not agreed on how to fund the salaries of civil servants. We think they are also under advice from other bodies on economic lines not to increase the salaries and some ministers are buying into that, which is unfortunate."

Mr Dzatsunga yesterday said Minister Matibenga should apprise them of why Government failed to award them a salary increment this month.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti had promised civil servants a 5 percent inflation-related salary increment this month. The lowest paid Government worker is getting US$296 while the poverty datum line (PDL) is over US$600.

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