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Interview: Tug of war in TNF over minimum wage…Unions demand SI, govt and business dig in

Paul Mavima

One of the highlights of last year’s tripartite negotiation forum (TNF) engagements was an agreement to set a US$150 minimum wage. On Friday, our senior business reporter, Freeman Makopa (FM) had a discussion with Labour and Social Welfare minister Paul Mavima (PM) on this and other pertinent issues under discussion at TNF. Here is how their discussion turned out…

FM: Zimbabwe has been losing millions of dollars to ghost workers. Have you done any audit to find out how many ghost workers are on the payroll?

PM: In a bid to move towards more sustainable fiscal management and a more effective public sector in 2018, with support from the World Bank, government implemented the public service biometric authentication project in line with the Transitional Stabilisation Programme Reforms Agenda 2018-2020.

The objective of the exercise was to ensure that the payroll includes only individuals whose existence and personal details have been verified with the National ID (NID) database. 

The exercise was implemented in the context of a large public service wage bill as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) and amid allegations of the existence of ghost public service employees. The exercise was undertaken in three phases. Each of the phases sought to achieve the following: Ensure all public employees on the payroll database had biometric attributes recorded in the NID database.

Define requirements for an interface that enables transactional queries from the payroll to the NID database to authenticate employees, ensure that the payroll includes only bona fide public officers; individuals whose existence and personal details have been verified with the NID database and implementation of the transactional interface between the payroll and the NID database.

In Phase 3, the programme was meant to provide independent verification of results achieved during phases 1 and 2, define options for the government to leverage biometric registration to achieve further modernisation and efficiency gains. This was finalised under the governance enhancement advisory support (P174375)…part of whose objectives were to inform the government of Zimbabwe wage bill policy.

FM: What was the next step?

PM: Independent verification missions were carried out in 2021 and 2022 to verify data processes in place to maintain a clean and biometric compliant payroll.

Overall, the biometric exercise achieved its objective as 99,18 % verified public officers were found with valid biometric attributes recorded in the registrar general (RG) office NID system, and 98,99% of public officers had matching dates of birth and gender across the systems.

The few control gaps and data mismatches, which were observed were attributed to reasons including wrong formatting, missing information, and data anomalies.

FM: Will government increase civil service salaries this year?

PM: The outcomes of the negotiating platform of the national joint negotiation council (NJNC) will determine any salary increment awards for the year. Government remains committed to engaging, through the NJNC, workers’ representatives on matters of conditions of service for all its workers.

FM: Are you happy with your ministry’s allocation in the 2023 national budget?

PM: Money is a finite resource and the onus is on us to deploy what we were allocated optimally and judiciously.

FM: Tell us about the fallout in the tripartite negotiation forum (TNF). We hear that labour has threatened to walk out

PM: In any negotiation, people come with their concessions and sometimes vary in their opinions, but as committed members of the Tripartite Negotiation Forum, we always find a common ground. As three partners of the forum (government, labour and business) we have different priorities and what brings us together is the greater need to move our country forward, taking on board each other's priorities and managing each other's expectations.

As government, we are happy with the way the negotiations are progressing. We consider each other as equal partners and we do not move even an inch without considering other parties. It is actually news to me that a member of the forum is threatening to pull out after the recent successful retreat we had. I would like to reiterate that TNF is one of the most successful frameworks that we have put together to achieve sustainable development as a country after the realisation that we are not complete without each other.

You emphasised labour unions. Let me also remind the nation that TNF consists of government, labour and business. So far none of the three partners has ever threatened to pull out. But what I can say is that, any negotiation without varying opinions and perspectives is not healthy. We value diversity as a government and what matters for us is then the convergence we make at the end. Labour unions should not threaten to boycott because as it stands the TNF is going on well and there is no problem or issues that are under discussion which parties did not agree on.

The TNF process is governed by the Act and the Act outlines on how business should be conducted and one party cannot dictate or decide to withdraw without following due processes.

FM: The feeling is that as government you seem to be dictating things

PM: TNF is not run or controlled by government where labour can say we are withdrawing, all parties have equal standing in TNF and if labour has a burning issue or issues they should share and raise it in TNF. Early December 2022, the whole TNF including government ministers were in Victoria Falls discussing pertinent issues of labour, economic and social issues affecting workers and the general population.

The TNF retreat came up with a white paper of 2023 priorities that were adopted by all parties. It’s just less than a month after the retreat and we are hearing that labour is calling for a boycott; on what? What are the issues? Maybe we don’t know and it may be based on other reasons outside the TNF business, we are not part of it as government.

FM:  You agreed as TNF for a minimum wage of US$150

PM: The issue of a general minimum wage of US$150 was discussed at length at the TNF principals meeting after cabinet had upheld the TNF resolution submitted in October. We have agreed in principle to the general minimum and the TNF is supposed to meet to discuss the implementation modalities, which is in the best interest of all parties.

The modus operandi of TNF is that if one member has an issue, that party has a right to cause for a meeting to discuss the matter provided the matter is of concern to labour, economic and social sectors of the economy as provided for in the TNF Act. As government we are already implementing the US$150 minimum as we are paying civil servants a US$200 cushion.

FM: So, government has taken a lead with regard to salaries

PM: So, in a way government is already leading private sector. In actual fact the idea of the general minimum was mooted after an observation of the growing gap between civil service salaries and the private sector (through their CBAs) at sector level. Both TNF parties agreed to the issue but the challenge is on how to effect it. Labour wants a statutory instrument (SI) but business and government are reluctant to the SI. So, the issue is on how to go about it. The TNF should meet to discuss the best way forward on how to implement the agreed minimum of US$150 and that platform is provided for by the TNF Act.

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