October 30, 2020

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Civil Servants Dilemma-Government Offers US$75

By Thembani Mutanda

Civil servants are in a Catch-22 situation on whether to accept the new offer or to stick to their original demand. The lily-livered opine that half a loaf is better than nothing.

Amid the Covid-19 lockdown, Government employees can barely survive as most of them earn RTGS3000-00; insufficient to cover the cost of bare essentials. A cursory survey of the food basket for a family of six judging by today’s prices would cost a staggering RTGS 7800-00.

Last week, the Government announced a Covid-19 allowance amounting to US$75 to all civil servants for the next three months at the backdrop of rising inflation and the Apex Council’s resolution to get a minimum of US550-00 as per the September 2018 salaries.

It is against such a background that Government workers felt their salaries should be in hard currency to cushion them from the effects of inflation. Some moderate unions advocated for adjustments according to black market rates but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Treasury seems intransigent as Prof Mthuli Ncube argues some that paying workers in US dollars is not sustainable in the long run as the country is not producing.

Wilson Bhuruwayo, a teacher and member of a militant teachers’ union said the government had to feel for its workers, the majority of whom have stood by it in the hyperinflationary years and some of them nearing retirement without making anything to show for their years of service.

‘’If someone retires, he may be given RTGS 60 000 but this is less than US$1000-00 if we are to calculate the figure on the parallel market rates. One may argue that we have to use the interbank rate but that is not correct for one will never get that money in banks unless one is connected and we all know that the ‘evil’ servants are not that connected,’’ Buruwayo said.

The interbank rate is now $57 under the auction system and every Tuesday the exchange is bound to change while the civil servants remain where they were a week ago. This calls for urgent intervention from central government amidst the business sector’s reluctance to accept the $2 as legal tender. Are the arms of government in the security cluster up to speed on the goings-on?

Matters are exacerbated by the fact that every time civil servants have a pay rise, the news media is awash with the news and the prices shoot over the roof yet not everyone is a civil servant. Ironically, when some sectors of the economy have their salary adjustments nothing is written about it.

This fuels inflation which is a disadvantage to the poor government employees who must endure the butts of jokes from ‘’amakorokoza’’ who disdain them and call them all sorts of names and the 2008 jokes of the artisanal miners rings true to this day: ‘’I have not been successful today. I got a teacher’s salary,’’ quipped one of the artisanal miners.

Last week’s announcement, to many civil servants, was a false dawn. The fact that one cannot access the forex is a bitter pill to swallow. Some civil servants feel that they need the money to be accessible and not it to be a voucher.

‘’How can the government tell us how to use our money notwithstanding the fact that it is a drop in the ocean if you are to note that in 2018, October, our salary was USD500 on average? We need to send our kids to school and to build a shelter for ourselves and children. This is insensitive,’’ an Agritex Officer, David Mhlanga, said.

What is angering the majority of the civil servants is the lack of pro-activity and unity among the various unions representing them. Apparently, the unions are content to react only when the government has announced some measures to assuage the plight of the government employees. The affluence reportedly enjoyed by the unions’ leaders is baffling and it could be that the leaders do not experience the daily gripes of their constituencies.

‘’Just see how they cry out for an outright rejection of the government’s offer. They should ask the government to give us the $75 in hard currency like yesterday and then take the government to task over the remaining amount to be paid to us in US dollars. We are suffering since the salaries cannot even sustain one individual. This all or nothing mantra is not good.

We secure the $75 in hard currency and we know what to do with our money although it falls far short from our expectations,’’ one irate office orderly in a government department, told this publication.

Unionizing workers provides a platform for negotiations between employers and employees. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe has a plethora of unions for the education sector and this does not augur well for the benefits of the worker.

Nurses and doctors have one union apiece and whatever they do is coordinated. As long as government employees pull in different directions, prospects of gaining a foothold in prosperity remain a pipe dream.

‘’Looking at the affluence out there, you wonder what has happened to our government that it continues to ignore our plight. They have talked about non-monetary benefits for donkey years every time we threaten to go on strike but the idea soon peters off after the industrial action. If the government is serious about these benefits, they have to walk the talk,’’ Leslie Munyamana, a nurse, said.

Non-monetary benefits should include the building of two roomed houses for government employees wherever they are domiciled. They also need land. Teachers demand that at least one of their children should not pay school fees.

Prices are pegged to the US dollar and government employees must subsidize the country at their expense. Transport costs have soared to unprecedented levels; government employees live in the same country where one must earn US$500 just to get by but they earn a fraction of that figure. They also want to send their children to university; rentals are charged in US dollars and they earn less than US$50.

‘’A private company gives a green artisan $12 000-00 and I earn $3000-00 in spite of my 26 years’ experience as a teacher. That artisan is given basics on top of his salary. You can see the disparity between the government and the private sector. For how long should we be the laughing of the region?’’ The teacher grumbled.

Government employees wait for the $75 ‘windfall’ to reflect in their accounts. For many, the journey has only just begun.
‘’We need the government to listen to us. We don’t apologies for demanding what is rightfully ours,’’ Simba Shumbanhete, a government worker, said.

Nurses and doctors demonstrating for better conditions, the government has a lot to grapple with but the government employees are saying they, too, want a piece of the pie.