MDC-T said yesterday it feared that Zanu PF had hijacked the strike and was using some union leaders to attack the party and some of its ministers instead of addressing the concerns of the civil servants as a united government.
Apex Council chairperson, Tendayi Chikowore, said civil servants were pressing ahead with the five-day strike despite overtures made by the government for a meeting on Wednesday this week.
“It is up to the government to see how the damage can be averted, but as far as we are concerned, our position has not changed and everything will be at a standstill come Monday,” she said.
Chikowore denied that unions were being influenced to go on strike by Zanu PF. She said the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) where she is the president, had been calling for strikes in the past including one in 2008 which led massive victimisation of teachers by Zanu PF supporters and officials. “As a trade union, we are looking at the GNU as a whole and not at Zanu PF or MDC,” said Chikowore.
Zimbabwe Nurses Association (ZNA) president Regina Smith said health workers would also join their counterparts in the civil service unless the Health Services Board addresses their demands for an increase in salaries, housing, transport and other allowances.
Chikowore said civil servants had exhausted all channels to have their grievances addressed and accused the Minister of Public Service, Lucia Matibenga, a former trade unionist herself, of snubbing them.
“Matibenga is supposed to be a bridge between us and the GNU (government of national unity). We are supposed to speak through her, but it has become impossible to communicate with her,” said Chikowore.
“She does not even bother to advise us on what is happening with regards to our welfare, leaving us with no option but to go on strike.” Chikowore said Matibenga should not be offended by criticism as it was not a personal attack on her but in her capacity as minister responsible for the welfare of civil servants.
Matibenga declined to speak to The Standard yesterday. “I am busy, I can’t speak to you,” was all she could say before ending the conversation. Economist Washington Mehlomakhulu said while it was difficult to quantify how much the economy would suffer if the strike went ahead, the action could be detrimental to the country.
“This might hurt investor confidence, as investors will pause and wait to see what happens,” he said.
Mehlomakhulu said the social impact would be felt immediately as social services will be hampered by the strike. He said they would be delays in licensing and approval of projects among other issues and this could harm the country’s fragile economy.
“The issue of wages is a reflection of the health of the economy; the government can only pay what it has,” he said. “For civil servants to get the money they are demanding, the economy should be growing at double digit numbers, but at the moment growth is between six and nine percent, depending on who you speak to.”
Economist John Robertson described the wage demands as extravagant.
“They are demanding a doubling of their salaries, yet already these take up more than half of the government’s revenue,” he said. “Then it means their wages would consume the entire budget.”
Robertson said a survey conducted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund revealed that Zimbabwe had one of the highest ratios of civil servants to revenue generation. Only Swaziland, Lesotho and South Africa had higher ratios.
But George Nkiwane, who heads a faction of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), said while they appreciated that the government had no money, they were worried about its expenditure patterns and priorities.
“The government can pay better, but the problem is that they seem to get their priorities wrong,” he admonished. “They are buying new cars for themselves and look at the allowances they gave each other as MPs.”
Nkiwane said it was important for the government to review its expenditure patterns. Workers are demanding across-the-board pay rises including a raise from US$200 to US$538 a month for the lowest-paid government workers, medical insurance and an allowance for rural-based workers.
Don’t blame MDC-T or Matibenga, says Mwonzora
MDC-T spokesman Douglous Mwonzora said it would be wrong to blame his party or Matibenga for the problem as the issue of the conditions of civil servants has been a long-standing issues since the inception of the GNU in 2009.
He said the principals, particularly President Robert Mugabe had met representatives of civil servants and made certain promises which had not been fulfilled. “Instead of trying to resolve these issues about civil servants, Zanu PF is now taking the opportunity to denigrate Matibenga and MDC,” said Mwonzora.
“It is also trying to blame the impasse on MDC, yet it is principally Zanu PF people and sympathisers who are not fully remitting proceeds from diamonds into treasury.”
He said MDC-T had also noted that some representatives of the workers were taking the opportunity to settle old trade union scores with Matibenga.