Civil servants storm out of talks

NEGOTIATIONS between civil servants and government ended prematurely yesterday with representatives of the workers storming out of talks in protest after being told that there would be no new offer on the table.

BY OBEY MANAYITI

The government is already dealing with a strike by doctors that has paralysed operations at public hospitals while rural teachers were on Sunday planning a march from Mutare to Harare to demand better pay and working conditions.

Zimbabwe is short of US dollars, the currency it adopted in 2009 after hyperinflation rendered its Zimdollar valueless, causing regular price hikes and shortages of basic goods, medicines and fuel.

Its workers, estimated at 500 000, were demanding an increase in salaries after prices rose five-fold and inflation shot up from 3.52% in January this year to 5.39% in September and 20.85% in October.

At a meeting held last month, government undertook to address the demands of its workers.

But after announcing austerity measures in the 2019 budget to drive down State expenditure and lower employment costs — which take up about 90% of its revenue — government has little room to manoeuvre as it seeks to bring down the budget deficit from 11,7% of gross domestic product (GDP) this year to 5% next year.

A meeting of the joint negotiating council which comprises nine representatives from the government and nine from the Apex Council — representing the unions of government workers — the State said the status quo would remain.

On Wednesday, the government had conveyed a similar message to the striking doctors, although the Minister of Health and Child Care, Obadiah Moyo and officials from the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association — which represents more than 1 000 members — were scheduled to meet again on Tuesday next week.

“Government had nothing to say, it had nothing to offer,” Apex Council secretary David Dzatsunga told NewsDay.

“In fact, they brought nothing to the table and we, therefore, decided to abort the meeting. They just told us they could call us when they have anything substantial. We walked out after about two hours, at that point we just concluded it was just pointless to continue with the meeting.”

The workers were not yet contemplating going on strike, but they were finding it difficult to keep reporting for work as their earnings have been eroded, he added.

“We said to government our members can no longer afford to go to work and because of the inflation and the rather punitive 2% tax (on electronic transactions), we said we can no longer afford to come to work but government says they cannot offer anything new and we really felt they are not taking this matter seriously,” Dzasunga said.

Government appears ready to dish out some tough love to its workers by cleaning up the civil service. Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said in the budget statement that from January 1, civil servants will be vetted through a biometric system, and will have to produce letters of employment, qualifications and identification to “ensure that every person being paid by government for services rendered is properly accounted for”.

The move will eliminate ‘ghost workers’ from its payroll. The opposition often use a 2010 EY audit report, which was never made public, to claim that the State has over 70 000 ghost workers on its payroll.

A 2015 civil service report put the figure at 3 307 while Auditor-General Mildred Chiri, in her report of the same year found 3 500 ghost workers drawing $21 million in salaries.

The government is also dismissing nearly 6 000 youth officers by year-end while the salaries of the President, ministers and senior civil servants and parastatal bosses will be cut by 5%.

Workers say the salary cut smacks of symbolism and that they continue to bear the burden of higher taxes and a bloated administrative system.

“We don’t have to call for a strike when it is clear that people can no longer afford to go to work, they cannot reproduce themselves. The transport costs have gone up and some services are paid for in US dollars, so how do we manage? We have told government to be sensitive to our plight,” Dzatsunga said.