Maputo — The Labour Consultative Commission (CCT), the tripartite negotiating forum between the Mozambican government, the trade unions, and the employers' associations, met in Maputo on Wednesday, and decided, by consensus, to start discussions on increasing the minimum wage.
The government thus kept its promise that the CCT would meet in June, with just one day to spare.
After the opening session of this extraordinary meeting of the CCT, the representative of the Labour Ministry, Emidio Mavila, announced that, following consultations between the three parties, it had been decided to press ahead with discussions on the minimum wage, sector by sector.
Mavila said the CCT discussions should last for no more than 30 days. He hoped that a consensual document on wage rises would be reached, and then submitted to the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) for its approval.
The minimum wages are usually discussed annually at the CCT. The 2020 negotiations began on 18 March that year, but the Covid-19 pandemic was used as an excuse to stop the talks. In previous years, an increase in the minimum wage was usually announced in late April and was always backdated to 1 April.
There have been no wage rises since April 2019 - and some representatives of the Confederation of Mozambican Business Associations (CTA) made it clear they did not want any wage rises this year. On 16 June, at a Maputo press conference, the CTA deputy chairperson, Vasco Manhica, implied that the employers want the wage freeze to continue indefinitely. He claimed that anything that could increase company costs, such as raising the minimum wage, "could interrupt the recovery effort and compromise the survival of companies".
The unions were infuriated, and feared that the CTA and the government were reneging on the promise to resume CCT negotiations in June. Alexandre Munguambe, general secretary of the main trade union federation, the OTM, accused the employers of deliberately avoiding any discussion about wage rises.
The fact that there had been no wage rises since 2019, Munguambe added, in an interview with the independent newssheet "Mediafax", had worsened the already difficult living conditions of Mozambican workers.
In 2019 the OTM argued that, to provide a basic basket of goods and services for an average family, a minimum monthly wage of 19,600 meticais (297 US dollars, at the exchange rate of the time), would have been needed. In 2020, the cost for the same basket, according to the OTM, would be 22,700 meticais a month.
But the monthly minimum wages agreed when the CCT met in 2019 came nowhere near 19,600 meticais. They ranged from 4,266 meticais for fishery workers on Lake Cahora Bassa in Tete province, to 12,760 meticais for workers in banking, insurance and other financial services. The minimum wage for public sector workers was just 4,467 meticais a month.
To make matters worse, Mavila said that any wage rise agreed at the CCT will not be backdated to 2019. The negotiations will not envisage any backdated payments, due to the impacts of the economic recession of the last two years.
"The months under discussion at the CCT refer to this year", he added. "Certainly we shall not go back to 2019 and 2020".
Speaking for the unions, Munguambe said the discussions will take into account the performances of each sector of activity, and he expected the sectors to provide whatever was possible, in order to grant some dignity to the workers.
He hoped that each sector would decide on "fair wages in order to motivate the workers".
CTA representative Paulino Cossa took a position markedly different from that stated a fortnight earlier by Vasco Manhica. He said the basis for discussion should be the performance of the Mozambican economy.
"The private sector is proposing a fair adjustment of wages, compatible with the situation of our country's economy", he said. "We believe that the economy depends fundamentally on motivated workers, workers with an incentive to improve production and productivity".