Comment: Heed IMF advice on salary increments

Tendai Chikowore, leader of The Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association (Zimta), faces a possible revolt from groups of unhappy members of her association.

Angry teachers affiliated to Zimta accuse her of playing too softly with government negotiators and have threatened to join the militant Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) which, with support from the lecturers’ union, has already called a strike to force government to improve the teachers’ pay.

It is not in dispute that civil servants are underpaid, given the country’s poverty datum line of over $500 — and it is also true they have waited, patiently and for a very long time, for government to deliver on its promise — to revise their salaries.

Indeed, if one looks at the many instances where government literally blows away money that could have been directed at better causes like the teachers’ plight, one would find the teachers have good reason to protest and down tools.

Government reportedly ordered top-of-the-range vehicles for ministers and their deputies while its officials globe-trot, chewing millions of dollars which could have been channelled towards the improvement of civil servants’ working conditions, including salaries.

Teachers have decided they have waited enough and it is time to act.

They are, however, not together or thinking independently on their decision — to strike or not to strike. It is an open secret that the teachers’ organisations are politically affiliated and as such whatever action each takes, is deemed to be in tandem with the thinking of the political party they are allegedly associated with.

Raymond Majongwe’s PTUZ is believed to be aligned to the former opposition parties while Zimta is said to be an appendage of government. Such a scenario — true or not — was derived from the positions that the organisations take in any given situation.

For instance, Zimta would more than often counsel patience and restrain its members from taking drastic action such as strike because it is seen to empathise with the paymaster — government. PTUZ, on the other hand, has remained militant — setting deadlines for its demands for salary increments.

Its leaders have also been seen to issue uncompromising statements too critical of government.
While it is wrong for government to keep its workers perpetually underpaid and for Zimta to coerce membership through forced subscription, and then claim to carry the majority in the teaching service with therefore the decisive action, it is important for the militant groups to be reasonable and demand achievable awards.

Government has promised to pay teachers through diamond proceeds, but what we know is that, other than the few auctions that have taken place so far, the country has been unable to offload its gems in order to generate money to pay civil servants.

It would be naïve for teachers to decide to go on strike because they believe the money that a government official and his entourage would have used on a “useless trip” could have been enough to pay teachers’ wages.

What the country requires is a steady economy that is able to sustain the salary increments. It would be a stupid government that increased its workers’ pay this month and fail to sustain that increment the following month.

The International Monetary Fund team that was in the country recently said while government workers were indeed underpaid, it would be suicidal for government to award any increases at the moment because the economy cannot sustain increments until at least next year — given the phenomenal growth the international lender has predicted for Zimbabwe.

Let us have salaries increased, working conditions improved — including rural posting allowances and all — but let us not invite riots by awarding unsustainable wage increases.

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