HomeEditorialsCivil service salaries – govt in Catch-22

Civil service salaries – govt in Catch-22

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The meeting on Tuesday to deal with civil servants’ salaries ended with differing viewpoints coming from both sides of the negotiating table — the civil servants representatives and the government team of negotiators.

NewsDay Editorial

It is interesting to note that representatives of the civil servants appear unhappy that the government team simply took notes of their demands without giving any concrete position — saying instead that they would have their responses after consulting with their seniors.

While government, through deputy Labour minister Tongai Muzenda, defended its position saying there was nothing wrong with their team requesting for time to consult — “since consulting is an acceptable negotiating tactic” — the civil servants are right in their concerns that this is a waste of time in that the government team comes to the negotiating table without the real negotiating powers and without the ability to make binding decisions.

What is required in any negotiation is a platform where both sides of the table are able to give and take and come up with an agreed middle point which can then be implemented as quickly as possible.

This issue of referring negotiating positions to other parties that are not part of the negotiating team means there are effectively two negotiating stages; meaning more than just one round of negotiation must be held. It is a cumbersome and timewasting process.

But then again, government, like any other negotiator, has its own negotiating tactics that must be accepted.

Away from the negotiating tactics, there is another issue that appears to put government in a Catch-22 situation. It is a situation where government has no money and finds its wage bill gobbling in excess of 75% of the total revenue. Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa said there is desperate need to progressively cut the wage bill down to 30% of the Budget by 2018.

But this realisation comes at a time when it is equally desperately and absolutely necessary to raise salaries of civil servants from the current lowest $296 to at least $540 (the Poverty Datum Line) — an increase that President Robert Mugabe has said is not negotiable. Under this scenario, it would mean that instead of going down from 75% of the Budget towards the required 30%, the civil service wage bill is actually set to balloon to levels above 100% of the total budget.

Former Finance minister Tendai Biti said just before Chinamasa presented his Budget that government could very soon be unable to pay civil servants’ salaries.

Even faced with this untenable situation where the current size of the civil service may swallow the entire national revenue after increases to PDL levels, there is also that pressing need to employ more civil servants especially in the health sector.

The answer would have been found easily in the adoption of the logical direction – to cut down on the security service sector – reduce the number of soldiers and police since the country is not at war nor is there any civil strife.

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