Simmering tension between government and its employees does not bode well for the ongoing wage negotiations.
The talks have been dragging on since last year when President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF promised to improve the welfare of its employees through the payment of a “token” salary hike among other incentives.
This has, however, not yet materialised leaving civil servants’ unions agitated, doubting whether Mugabe will fulfil his pre-election promise.
On Monday the government remained tight-lipped about the promised civil servants’ salary increments and warned that any strike action could only be done in accordance with the laws of the country.
Because, according to Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Nicholas Goche, negotiations were still underway between his ministry and government workers.
That thin-veiled threat to thousands of hungry government workers, whose salaries have not been increased, does not augur well for the salary negotiations.
Some civil servants’ unions have threatened crippling strikes when schools open next Tuesday if government failed to honour Mugabe’s pledge to increase workers’ wages. Goche’s threat followed Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe’s remarks that government should come up with a position on civil servants’ salaries before schools opened or face crippling industrial action.
We know that if teachers embark on industrial action millions of children will suffer. We thought the lost decade was over, but it seems Goche and company still wan’t to buy time for reasons we don’t know.
While civil servants’ unions are entitled to calling for industrial action as advocated by some, this will only have negative repercussions for the country’s recovering education system. Industrial action is the last thing it requires.
The commitment of civil servants to their work cannot be questioned, but embarking on industrial action is not the solution.
On the other hand, the government must show sincerity and commitment to the negotiations.
Promises made by Mugabe before and after the July 31 polls to increase the salaries of the least paid government worker in tandem with the Poverty Datum Line, estimated at $540 monthly, must be fulfilled.
Also critical on the part of government is to tell the truth with regards to the promised increment.
Goche, as the minister responsible, must have the guts to tell it as it is. If the government cannot afford to give salary increments as initially promised it must communicate the message to the respective parties, however, disappointing it might be.
With schools opening in less than a week it is time government and the unions put closure to the matter. Further dragging on the matter can only be detrimental to the innocent children looking forward to the new school calendar year.
Could it be a case of Zanu PF promising to win the July 31 vote, but later realising that the economy has become a huge hypermarket with no capacity to generate any revenue?
Zanu PF must deal with the economy urgently or face strikes in a range of sectors.