Ministers, civil servants meet over salaries

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Paul Mavima

BY DESMOND CHINGARANDE/KUDAKWASHE TAGWIREYI
PUBLIC Service minister Paul Mavima has invited more than 40 public service unions to a meeting to discuss salaries and conditions of service today.

Finance minister Mthuli Ncube is expected to attend today’s negotiations amid concerns that his mid-term fiscal policy review and supplementary budget announced last Thursday failed to adequately cushion workers from inflation. He raised the monthly tax free threshold to just $50 000.

Workers feel that Ncube’s taxation measures are inadequate given that the country’s poverty datum line is well above $120 000 and inflation shot up to 256,9% last month, according to latest official figures.

Civil servants want United States-denominated salaries, but government has shot down their demands.

“Following our meeting on 19 July 2022 and your request to have a meeting with the Finance minister Mthuli Ncube to discuss the conditions of service of members of the public service, your request has been granted,” Public Service ministry secretary Simon Masanga wrote in a statement dated July 28.

Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Confederation of Public Sector Trade Unions Cecilia Alexander welcomed the invite.

“We are happy that the government has invited us after we tried for a long time to have a meeting concerning the welfare of public service workers,” she said.

“We all know that our salaries have been eroded by inflation, and this meeting will address issues of value of what we are getting. We had tried to convince the government to pay us in US dollars, but they said they do not have the money to pay us in that currency.  We are now saying value the figures you are giving us so that we don’t sink in poverty.”

But the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) feels that the discussions are pointless since Ncube has already ruled out US dollar salaries.

“The invite has very little to offer in terms of resolving the current challenges facing civil servants. Above all, Mavima has already insinuated that the government cannot pay civil servants in US dollars, thereby watering down meaningful dialogue with teacher unions in particular and civil servants in general,” PTUZ president Takavafira Zhou said.

“Civil servants are already contemplating industrial action in September 2022 and only meaningful social dialogue can ensure industrial harmony and productivity.”

Last week, a planned civil servants’ industrial action flopped as unions failed to unite.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) feels that government is negotiating in bad faith.

“The Finance minister is running behind the assumption that people are earning around $50 000. He should have set the tax-free monthly threshold higher than that. His transaction tax limit of $2 500 also means nothing,” ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said.

In his mid-term budget review statement, Ncube said the 2% electronic money transfer tax would now apply to transactions above $2 500, up from $1 000.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (Zimcodd) said Ncube’s tax measures to cushion workers and the poor were insufficient.

“Further, suspension of duty on basic goods by government in May 2022 is largely benefiting those with access to foreign currency as importers are charging in forex. It is the public’s view that tax relief measures should significantly lessen the burden on the poor and vulnerable more than on the elite,” Zimcodd said, describing  Ncube’s budget surpluses as a hoax because he was failing to pay workers well and support social services.

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