Civil servants demand US$475 minimum pay, threaten strike

Civil servants dance during a protest in Harare on Tuesday, July 16, 2019 - newZWire

Civil servants will go on strike unless government raises salaries to the equivalent of US$475 for the lowest paid worker, union leaders said on Tuesday.

Zimbabwean workers’ incomes have been eroded by resurgent inflation, which came in a 175.66% in June on an annualised, according to the latest official statistics. Month-on-month inflation jumped to 39.26% in June compared to 12.54% in May.

The government’s reintroduction of a local currency last month, ending a decade of dollarisation, has unleashed pent-up inflationary pressures in the economy.

Heads of the Civil Service and Health Apex Councils, Cecilia Alexander and Panganayi Chivese, respectively, led leaders of at least 10 other government worker unions in a march to the labour and finance ministries, where they presented a petition calling for an urgent pay increase.

Deputy Labour Minister, Lovemore Matuke, receives a petition from the Civil Service Apex Union’s Cecilia Alexander

“Civil servants are not asking for a salary increment, but rather restoration of the value of their earnings which fell from at least US$475 to a mere US447 currently, for the lowest paid civil servant,” reads the petition.

“In arriving at the figure for a cost of living adjustment, the interbank rate must apply, benchmarked against the pre-October 2018 average US$475 salary for the lowest paid civil servant. This will, therefore, mean the lowest paid worker should earn Z$4,750 to restore the value of their earnings.”

Hope that the economy would quickly rebound under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced the long-ruling Robert Mugabe after a November 2017 coup, has turned to frustration as the country struggles with shortages of basics such as electricity, fuel and medicines.

The lowest-paid government worker earns 430 Zimbabwe dollars a month, enough to buy a vehicle tyre. The government hiked the price of fuel at the weekend and is looking to raise the tariff for electricity in the coming weeks.

“As workers, we refuse to be sacrificed. We have come today as the leadership, if our petition is not received favourably, we will bring the entire civil service out to protest,” Civil Service Apex Council chairperson Alexander said, addressing a group of workers outside the building housing the Ministry of Finance.

The last strike called by another union over a sharp rise in fuel prices in January turned deadly after an army crackdown on protesters left more than a dozen people dead.

Deputy Labour Minister Lovemore Matuke

Deputy Minister of Labour, Lovemore Matuke, who received the unions’ petition, promised to take it up with government.

“We have heard you, we have received your petition. We’ve heard that your incomes have been eroded. It’s a serious issue, which has to be discussed. I know negotiations are in progress and I will hand the petition to the relevant authorities,” Matuke said.

The unions have grown frustrated by the pace of wage talks and accuse the government of not showing urgency.Last week, public sector workers rejected the government’s offer of 180 million Zimbabwe dollars ($20.41 million) in additional pay for the next six months, saying it was too little.– With Reuters