The looming strike by civil servants over salaries should be blamed squarely on government.
The paltry 24% salary increment offered to government workers is not only an insult but epitomises the government’s arrogance when it comes to the welfare of its employees.
What adds salt to the wound is the way in which the government misled its workers by raising expectations that they would get 100% salary increases.
Presenting the National Budget in November last year, Finance minister Tendai Biti announced a 100% rise for the government wage bill, raising hopes that the poorly remunerated government employees would get a salary hike by the same margin.
But this week, to their horror and consternation, civil servants woke up to the reality that the government had all along planned to give them a cumulative salary rise of $25 for the lowest paid worker.
And Biti has the audacity to defend the government’s action, arguing that the 100% announced in the Budget did not necessarily transform into a 100% increase in individual salaries.
What boggles the mind more is that after the Budget was announced, media reports indicated that the government workers were set to get a double salary increase but Biti and his colleagues in government did not bother to correct this “misconception” they triggered through a deceptive technicality, they left government workers to dream on.
Biti and his colleagues in government know that civil servants’ remuneration is an insult and that they showed patience with their employer by accepting peanuts for the whole of last year should have been acknowledged.
Yet the Finance minister went on to slap them in the face by telling them to go back and scrutinise the Budget statement so as to be pacified by the knowledge that a 100% hike in employment costs did not translate into the same in their salaries. What a cheap shot.
The government has clearly shown that it does not have a shred of respect for its workers, ignoring their pleas for better remuneration and their suggestions for better conditions of service.
“. . . the government did not take into cognisance the position paper presented by the workers. We wanted $502 for the lowest paid worker, but what we got was not even half of our demands equal to the poverty datum line — which is about $500,” said Tendai Chikowore, chairperson of the Apex Council, the umbrella body representing government workers.
“There was also no attempt by the government to resuscitate the rural allowances while non-monetary benefits which we discussed in Kariba were not mentioned,” added Chikowore.
As a result the government mocked the civil servants by increasing housing and transport allowances by amounts ranging between $8 and $9.
The workers’ anger is justified in the face of such irrational and arrogant decisions by their employer.
The government should understand that people sell their labour to survive and not for charity or a mere pat on the back for a job well done.
It is incumbent upon the government to be realistic and address the civil servants’ genuine remuneration concerns rather than equivocate on such a sensitive matter.
The attempt to hide behind meaningless technicalities couched in riddles does not work.
It is time that the government seriously addressed civil servants’ concerns in a comprehensive manner.