By Everson Mushava
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s recently enacted economic measures will be tested next week when government workers meet to decide the salary threshold they should demand from their employer following the reintroduction of the Zimbabwe dollar as the sole medium of internal transactions.
Government workers were forced to shelve a crippling strike two weeks ago after Mnangagwa met them in a crunch meeting that forced the Zanu PF leader to dump the decade-long multi-currency regime to duck the United States dollar-denominated salaries that had been demanded by civil servants.
Mnangagwa promised to table an offer which would reflect the new reality before the National Joint Negotiating Council, a meeting which brings together government and its workers.
The meeting will be held on Tuesday, while the Apex Council (NJNC), an umbrella body for all government workers, will be gathering on Monday, a day earlier to discuss their demands.
“We will meet as Apex to come up with some figures especially in light of the pricing shifts that are happening,” Apex Council spokesperson David Dzatsunga said yesterday.
Mnangagwa was forced to dump the multi-currency system after the issue of civil servants salaries caused him sleepless nights.
Most government workers, who had continued to earn in local currency at a time prices were denominated in the US dollar, had declared incapacitation and threatened a crippling strike.
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Nurses recently reduced the number of days they report for work, while teachers, though divided, have threatened to down tools as well.
Mnangagwa then decided to sacrifice the much-fancied multi-currency system in favour of the Zimdollar through Statutory Instrument 142.
The President said the decision was aimed at addressing the pricing distortions in the market.
Last week, Mnangagwa said he had received reports that prices had started falling after de-dollarisation and warned that dire consequences would befall businesses which were resisting slashing prices.
But some have dismissed the said price reductions as superficial and only meant offer a leeway for government to duck civil servants salary hikes.
But Dzatsunga said: “We are meeting, likely on Monday, since the NJNC will be held on Tuesday. At the last meeting, we had demanded US dollar salaries, but that has been overtaken by events. That is why we need to come up with a new position that takes into account the changes and realities in the economy. We will basically be guided by cost of the food basket for a family of six.”
Most government workers’ earnings are now well below the poverty datum line. The cost of living has been increasing since the beginning of the year with the food basket, for a family of five, rising by $6,83 or 2,29% from ZWL$298,08 at the end of February 2019 to ZWL$304,91 by end of March 2019 before sharply shooting up to about ZWL$800 in April.
But the prices have trebled since April and indications are that the cost of living could be way above ZWL$1 000, double the salaries of most civil servants.
That means government could be forced to sharply increase its workers’ salaries, a move that can also trigger inflation.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe president Takavafira Zhou said nothing would come out of next week’s meetings, accusing the Apex Council of “always” helping government punish its workers.
“As usual, government is preparing for another romance with the Apex Council next week. The NJNC has always failed to address even some non-monetary issues like land and tuition fees for teachers’ children. No wonder, we feel they are masquerading as leaders,” he said.
“This is a difficult time that needs extraordinary measures and extraordinary unity of civil servants in order to get some semblance of cushion from a rogue regime.”