Government in gridlock
ZIMBABWE’S cash- strapped government has refused to give civil servants unconditional commitment on the payment of their salaries, as Treasury faces increasingly dwindling revenue streams against the backdrop of company closures and rising unemployment.
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister, Prisca Mupfumira, who held closed door meetings with representatives of government workers on Monday, told the Financial Gazette this week that government could not give absolute pay dates for future salary payments.
“We do not have exact dates for July and the months after. We are currently seized with June salaries and so I cannot give you the July dates at the moment. We will make necessary announcements in due course,” she said.
The June salary payments triggered a storm after government announced that it could not meet its payroll commitments for June, moving the salary dates to July. These were however staggered, with various State departments’ workers getting paid on different dates.
That decision forced government into meetings with worker representatives, and the meeting on Monday followed an impasse last week as government tried to persuade civil servants’ representatives to accept government’s position.
After emerging from a closed door meeting with civil service unions on Monday, Mupfumira announced that government would deposit US$100 for every civil servant as advance payments for transport costs until enough money was raised to pay the June salaries in July.
According to sources, Mupfumira reportedly told civil servants union leaders that government was considering moving the July payment date to August 4, highlighting the escalation of the financial crisis facing government.
Indications are that government’s US$4 billion budget for the current year is in disarray, with Treasury failing to adequately finance the salary bill which gobbles up about 80 percent of State revenue.
Mupfumira is also said to have told the meeting that there was no way government could manage to pay July salaries on time as it was struggling with cash flows.
She maintained that government had decided to indefinitely keep staggering salary payments to manage its strained cash flows.
According to documents seen by the Financial Gazette, Mupfumira proposed that members of the health sector would receive their July salaries ahead of everyone else on August 4, with teachers and members of the uniformed forces set to get their salaries on August 9.
The deliberations were, however, silent on when the rest of the civil servants would receive their salaries.
But when unionists pushed hard, she reportedly gave them three options that she said government was considering.
The first option, which was roundly dismissed, was that if they remained adamant that salaries be paid in July, government would split the wages into two batches running into mid-August.
The second option, which was also dismissed, was that half of the salaries would be paid in grocery vouchers redeemable in supermarkets across the country.
This, it was suggested, would complement government’s drive to encourage the use of plastic money. Plastic money refers to debit and credit cards normally issued by banks for transactions.
The third option, which unionists said would require consultation with their membership, was that part of the salaries would be converted into any of the currencies adopted by government, notably the South African rand, the Chinese yuan and the Botswana pula.
Zimbabwe Rural Teachers Union president, Gibson Mushangu, said they were very disappointed by the outcome of the meeting.
“We are squarely against any further salary delays and we are not accepting this plastic money as rural based teachers. We do not have the facilities to use plastic money in rural areas. Can you go to an elderly woman selling a goat and tell her you want to swipe? Some of these things being proposed by government are just a mockery,” said Mushangu.
“As far as we are concerned, we are expecting to get our July salaries on time and in a normal way, so we are not taking any of those options,” he added.
George Mushipe, president of the Democratic Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, said: “It is true that the Minister gave us options that only serve to leave us in the dark about our future. She provided a number of options, but none of those are acceptable. At this rate, we could have a situation where we can go for months without receiving our salaries. These delays have an incremental effect, once we are out of the normal salary system, everything is possible and that is why we are fighting against any further delays.”
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary general, Raymond Majongwe, said his union was already calling on its members to go on strike.
“These options are an attempt to bribe us and drag us into a world of make-believe.
“The government prioritises everything other than the welfare of its workers. We are ready to bite the bullet,” he said.
“We are urging our members to ignore this nonsense from government. As teachers, we are in constant production of the human mind and that should be respected by our employer.”
Cecilia Alexander, chairperson of the APEX council, the umbrella body for all civil servants, criticised government for negotiating in bad faith.
She said the decision on the way forward by all unions would be announced tomorrow once all unions have finalised their consultations.
“Government is always shifting goal posts, which is very unfortunate. This behaviour will leave us with no option but (to) fail to report for duty,” said Alexander.
“What is generally coming from unions is that workers are not happy with this situation. We are continuing with our consultations and by Friday, we will have had our position which we will communicate to our employer as a united front,” she added.
Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor, John Mangudya, who was part of the meeting along with Finance Minister Chinamasa and ICT Minister, Supa Mandiwanzira, conceded in an interview, that money was scarce.
“The US dollar is very scarce at the moment. The rate at which it is being taken out of the country is very unsustainable. That is why we are encouraging the use of plastic money and a rivet to the multi-currency system to ease the pressure. We import the US dollar and in a matter of weeks, it is all gone,” said Mangudya.
Government has blamed the failure to pay salaries on the bonus payments it has been making since the beginning of the year.
The last payment which cleared government coffers was made early this month.
Government committed itself to paying bonuses after President Mugabe vetoed Chinamasa’s earlier decision to cancel it citing stressed revenue inflows.
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