Public Service minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro Friday came face to face with hundreds of angry civil servants who besieged the government offices at Kaguvi Building in Harare demanding an audience with him on the issue of salaries.
Led by Apex Council chairperson Tendai Chikowore, the civil servants staged a march from Rotten Row to Mukonoweshuro’s Kaguvi Building offices in Fourth Street where they demanded to be addressed by the minister.
Mukonoweshuro was initially reluctant to address the impatient employees saying he had been advised by fellow Cabinet colleagues not to as he was bound to be “heckled, humiliated and undressed”.
The minister however later succumbed to pressure and came out to address the restive civil servants. He said government was committed to addressing their plight and promised that the National Joint Negotiating Committee would meet next week to deliberate on their concerns.
“It’s a first that a minister addresses government workers in such unprecedented fashion. I’m here to express commitment and acknowledgement that we understand that the most powerful resources this government has is not the money but the people who work for it,” he said.
“Everything possible is being done and all we agreed with Apex Council in May is being looked into to come up with a resource envelope to address requirements of the civil servants.”
Mukonoweshuro promised that the negotiating teams would resume business next week to address the plight of civil servants.
“It’s not true that I’m not committed or that government is not committed to its employees,” said Mukonoweshuro.
However, the Apex Council said they remained skeptical of Mukonoweshuro’s promises, saying his assurances were usual government rhetoric that they had become accustomed to.
Raymond Majongwe, secretary-general of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, said civil servants had to monitor events next week to check whether government was truly committed to serious negotiations.
“At the beginning of his speech, the minister said negotiations will begin next week and at the end he contradicted himself and said hopefully next week. This has signalled lack of commitment from government and, as unions, we will monitor from Monday to see if meetings will take place and to measure government commitment,” he said.
“They have money from the diamonds they sold secretly and they say the tourism sector is doing well but when it comes to paying us, they backtrack,” he said.
Chikowore said the unions would for now stand by the assurances of the minister to see if government would meet its promise.
Other union leaders said this was the time to test government’s sincerity and threatened “chaos” if their employer failed to fulfil the promise.