10 January 2014

Zimbabwe: Skint Govt Mulls Non-Monetary Civil Service Deal

THE cash-strapped government is considering non-monetary benefits for its estimated 230,000-strong workforce as it appears the cash is not available to honour a pledge by President Robert Mugabe to nearly double their salaries.

Zanu PF offered to increase civil service salaries in line with the country's Poverty Datum Line (PDL) which is estimated at just over US$500, a development that would see wages of the least paid staffers being doubled.

But talks between unions and government officials have yet to reach a deal and increasingly restive teachers have demanded answers.

"We had a meeting with the government on December 24 last year where we forwarded our grievances as teachers to the government hoping to get a positive response but to no avail," said Zimbabwe Teachers' Association (Zimta) president Richard Gundane this week.

"During the meeting, the government had no comprehensive answer to the urgent review of salaries and all it could afford was to make reference to the two policy papers - that is the ZimAsset and the 2014 budget statement.

"The sum of the statements provided for in the 2014 budget is that the PDL-anchored salary adjustment is not attainable in the short term. This therefore paints a gloomy picture for this month."

Labour minister Nicholas Goche however, told State media that a meeting scheduled for Wednesday would likely provide clarity over the issue.

"The negotiating teams are meeting on Wednesday and we have already informed the staff associations through a letter," he said.

"The meeting will see Government responding to their position paper which they submitted recently. We have our position as Government and we will first reveal that position, what we have to offer and negotiate from there."

Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa lamented the size of the government wage bill in his 2014 budget saying salaries had taken up 75 percent of revenues in 2013. He said this needed to be reduced to 30 percent by 2018.

Goche said the government would offer the workers non-monetary benefits, an option the unions appear to be open to.

"We have a two-pronged approach on the issue of housing," he said.

"Government plans to build houses for its workers and though it is long- term that should be the norm. The houses have also to be afford-able and as such NSSA is putting aside a substantial amount to start that. It is setting up a new financial fund to deal with that.

"The good thing is that the workers will participate in doing that by suggesting their ideas while we suggest what we can also do. I believe if we put our ideas together sincerely, then something positive would come up at the end of the day."

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