Civil servants should negotiate a realistic package

By Daphine Zulu

Whilst Government has paved way for civil servants salary negotiations following the sky-rocketing of prices (since October 2018), it is also significant for the apex council to negotiate for a realistic package if both parties are to attain a win-win situation.

National Joint Negotiating Council which is charged with negotiating conditions of service for civil servants meet last year in June and agreed on an 17, 5% increment across the civil service, and again six months down the line, the Government has seen it fit to converge for yet another salary adjustment - Government’s way of cushioning its workers against the price distortions in the economy. Surely, any reasonable negotiator/civil servant who served under former President Mugabe would appreciate these engagements.

It’s a fact that Zimbabwe is coming out of decades of economic doldrums and sanity can’t be restored overnight, however this equally doesn’t mean that workers ought to suffer in silence. As much as civil servants’ remuneration has been eroded owing to price distortions, Government is equally struggling to keep pace with salary increments, as such need to probably consider alternative incentives/packages for workers.

Workers go to work to be able to fend for their families, a situation which Government could confront probably in non-monetary ways. Workers have been clamouring for affordable accommodation, transport fares to and from work, a situation which Government could probably intervene by offering accommodation/residential stands and subsidised transport services (train buses) in order to cushion workers from profiteering commuter omnibuses who are charging exorbitant fares due to their monopoly especially on many urban routes.

Government has long promised residential stands to civil servants which never came to fruition leading to workers spending money on dubious land barons, and expensive landlords – money which they could channel towards their livelihoods especially now.  

What many workers overlook during the negotiation process is other additional benefits they could receive instead of solely focusing on salary increment. They could probably negotiate on other perks such as health benefits. Why not initiate civil servants being attended by Government doctors in public hospitals, subsidised school fees for their children, a sign-on bonus. It’s very likely that the employer would be open to offering additional perks if they can’t promise a higher salary.

Civil servants’ representatives need to bear in mind when they make their demands that Government relies heavily on taxes for cash inflows and the +450% increment isn’t feasible. With the economy depressed, salary increments should be matched with Government’s revenue inflows because companies which should provide the bulk of Government revenue through taxes, duty and other payments, are equally struggling to remit.

It is commendable that despite the low cash inflows Government has never reneged on its obligation to pay monthly salaries, a situation which could change in the event of ballooned salary expenditure.

At present the Ministry of Finance reports that 70% of Government revenue is being channelled towards salaries, and the greatest danger is that Government might end up failing to pay those monthly salaries if unreasonable salary demands are meet. This will only see the Government owing workers salary arrears or being paid later into the following month.

Government has assured that salaries can always be increased as the economy improves, as Government has developed a comprehensive plan to revive the economy and put the country on the path to steady economic growth.

The country’s Finance Minister has been on record saying that the revival plan involves some painful measures to get our national budget under control and these measures are unavoidable if we want to get our economy back on track. As such this is one area we have to compromise on. In Margret Thatcher’s own words, “Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live.”

As a nation we must all be behind government efforts by the support we give to its measures. Government is making structural reforms to liberalise the economy, privatise inefficient parastatals, reduce red tape, regulation and attract investment and has currently embarked on making big cuts to perks and unnecessary expenditure, so that Government lives within its means/budget; likewise the salary increment issue.