GOVERNMENT has been accused of using “ambush tactics” in its quest to slash the ever-ballooning civil service wage bill after the public media announced Cabinet had approved a raft of measures to reduce State expenditure on salaries.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
Civil servants’ representative body Apex Council president Richard Gundane told NewsDay yesterday that they had “never been consulted” in the latest pronouncements by Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira.
“We are learning of these measures through the media like everyone else, which is very disturbing to say the least. Government, in our view, could have handled this issue better because the only thing this kind of behaviour serves is to stoke negative sentiments towards whatever programme that they come up with.
“It is not fair and government knows this. When pronouncements that have a fundamental impact on how institutions function are made from top to bottom, they have an uncanny effect of producing discord and negativity,” Gundane said.
But Mupfumira yesterday said she was willing to meet government workers’ representatives and would not be drawn into categorically admitting to “jumping the gun”.
“We will meet them. It’s okay,” she said.
Asked if indeed the Apex Council had not been consulted, Mupfumira said it was a protracted process and she would respond later.
“It is a long process and I am in the middle of another meeting. I cannot comment, try me later,” she said.
Gundane said a meeting with Mupfumira would do little to change whatever the government has put in place, “but in the spirit of engagement we hope we will be able to indicate grey areas and provide some input”.
Government has admitted it was using about 80% of its budget to pay salaries, leaving 20% for service delivery.
Multi-lateral institutions keen on re-engaging President Robert Mugabe after a decade and a half of frosty relations have indicated that government’s wage bill was unsustainable and would need to be dealt with.
In response, the government has embarked on an audit of its staff amid reports there is a looming massive cull of the almost
300 000 workforce to reduce expenditure to about 40%.
The Apex Council, Gundane said, had “consistently” asked government to provide a clear programme of how it was going to handle the issue of civil service rationalisation.
“The answers have not been forthcoming only to wake up to these pronouncements and, worse still, through the media. We are only aware of the re-introduction of bus fares which we agreed needed to be put in place so that government can be able to service available buses as well as probably purchase new ones,” Gundane said.
“We are aware that our members have not been making pension contributions, but it would have been prudent for the government to use the National Joint Negotiating Council (NJNC) as a safety valve to guard against unnecessary tensions.”
He said the Apex Council has been agitating for the NJNC to be given collective bargaining powers.
“And that is why we have been fighting for this platform (NJNC) to be given power of salary bargaining. It is this kind of behaviour that we wanted to deal with. We will seek audience with government as early as possible so that we get an explanation,” he said.
Government has accepted a new wave of the International Monetary Fund’s Staff-Monitored Programmes that require strict budgetary controls including sustainable expenditure on salaries.
The effect of this is pressure to reduce drastically the size of the civil service.
However, Mugabe’s government through his Treasury chief, Patrick Chinamasa, has steered clear of using language remotely connected to job losses.