In yesterday’s issue of The Herald, we carried a story based on a “position paper” written by Zesa workers who are demanding a whopping 75 percent salary increase.
The workers, represented by the Zimbabwe Energy Workers Union (ZEWU) and National Energy Workers Union of Zimbabwe (NEWUZ) demanded among a host of other benefits, a “climate” allowance to cushion them from the elements. Ironically, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect: uncomfortably high temperatures are currently being experienced in most parts of the country.
Zesa employees also demanded a five-day holiday for six family members at any three-star hotel, full school fees payment for up to four of the employees’ children, cellphone allowance and a driving allowance (for whatever reason).
The “position paper” reads like something plucked out of Shakespearean satire. What makes the Zesa comedy bitterly satirical is that the lowest paid Zesa employee in grade A11, a sweeper, is already getting $940, while a junior engineer in grade D2 is getting $4 900.
A headmaster entrusted with a whole school of 1 000 pupils several teachers in the hottest part of Zimbabwe is hardly getting half of what a Zesa sweeper is paid! And yet, no one in Government has ever suggested a “climate allowance” or a fully paid for much-needed break at a three-star hotel.
It’s either Zesa workers have lost their marbles or they are providing much-needed comic relief to millions of Zimbabweans struggling to make ends meet. Is there an electric fault in their heads?
Zesa workers’ outrageous 75 percent increase in salaries and allowances across the board will almost double the power utility’s monthly wage bill from the current $22 million.
No prizes for guessing who will pay for the new salary structure — electricity consumers — through a tariff increase.
If Zesa’s revenue, as we reported, fluctuates between $53 million and $59 million monthly, then $10-$15 million will be left to service Hwange and Kariba power stations as well as foreign debt. “When/where did the rain start beating us?”
“The macro-economic environment over the past three years has been on a progressive decline with the steepest price hikes being experienced in the last six months of 2017,” reads the position paper prepared by ZEWU and NEWUZ.
“The rise in the cost of living has continued unabated and has reached alarming levels in recent weeks. One of the critical factors, which has led to the erosion of workers’ salaries is the shortage of cash, be it bond notes or US dollars. To make matters worse, for one to access cash, one has to sleep at a bank and get less than $50 or get it on the black market where charges have escalated to more than 80 percent, especially for US dollars.”
The irony is appalling: Retailers and manufacturers have been telling us that the cost of electricity is one of the major causes of rising prices. And Zesa employees don’t pay for their electricity! So let’s break it down: Zesa workers want to be paid more because commodity prices have gone up. If a salary increase is effected then electricity tariffs have to go up to cover the revenue gap. And once electricity goes up, commodity prices have to go up again.
We ask again: “When/where did the rain start beating us?” When did we become so selfish and inconsiderate? Has our love for money as Zimbabweans eroded reason?
We urge Government to act swiftly not only on Zesa salaries, which are already outrageous, but all parastatals, local authorities and quasi-Government institutions which have become get-rich-quick schemes for others.
When President Mnangagwa assumed office in November last year he said it was “no longer going to be business as usual”. The President, who is currently in Davos, Switzerland, where he hopes to woo foreign investors, should not allow this “business as usual” attitude in parastatals.
Which level-headed investor or bank can lend Zesa money for power generation infrastructure when the power utility’s wage bill is unsustainable? We still need to sort ourselves out! We appeal for reason before individual needs as we build Zimbabwe in the new dispensation.