HARARE – President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration has been plunged into fresh turmoil as civil servants threaten to down tools with only a few months left before make-or-break polls to be held before July 31.
This comes as doctors in major hospitals across the country downed tools on Thursday, protesting low salaries and poor working conditions.
But as government fights to contain the doctors’ strike, the Daily News on Sunday can report that potentially explosive undercurrents are raging among other groups of civil servants.
The Apex Council — the umbrella representative body for civil servants — told the Daily News on Sunday on Friday that they too would soon join the industrial action by doctors if their employer does not address their concerns.
The Apex Council is demanding a salary increase that can cushion civil servants against the high cost of living, fuelled by price increases of basic goods and services experienced towards the end of last year.
George Mushipe, the council’s treasurer, said they were deeply concerned about the plight of public sector workers who have not demanded for a salary adjustment in the past four or so years.
“The three-tier pricing system and the unilateral pension deductions have eroded our disposable income. We demand a poverty datum line (PDL) linked salary now to ameliorate the plight of all civil servants,” he said.
“We also demand that those that have attained higher relevant qualifications be upgraded to levels commensurate with their new qualifications. There is a lot of bunching of salaries which is a worrying scenario,” he added.
The lowest earning civil servant takes home below $300, which is way below the PDL, estimated at about $600.
Mushipe said leave for teachers remained banished even though the relevant Statutory Instrument (SI) 1 of 2000 has neither been repealed nor amended.
“The welfare of civil servants is pathetic to say the least. Individual unions are trying very hard to improve their membership welfare like in our case we have embarked on a massive housing scheme where members get into their complete houses and pay over long periods depending on their remaining years of service.
“Government should come in and improve working conditions for its workforce. Morale is at its lowest ebb. Confirmation that bonus will be paid, though staggered was accepted. Some felt it is coming late, others took solace in the fact that it’s coming,” Mushipe said.
The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) weighed in yesterday, saying teachers have lost hope in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration despite his pledges when he took over from Robert Mugabe, whose regime was rocked by frequent job actions.
When he was inaugurated as president on November 24 last year, Mnangagwa promised better working conditions for civil servants and said his government would commit itself to paying annual bonuses.
But 100 days later, there has not been any marked improvement, amid report his government is trying to placate the military which helped him assume power from Mugabe by addressing transport problems, reviewing their salaries and providing better houses for troops as part of sharing the spoils of Mugabe’s toppling.
“We are very disappointed as teachers. The president has seen everyone who matters except workers but for any economy to function the government need workers. There is nothing positive in this new regime; our conditions are worse now. We demanded a salary increment as of yesterday, workers are suffering — the government must engage us,” said PTUZ secretary-general, Raymond Majongwe.
“They are dillydallying with our bonuses. We have suffered enough. They must brace for action from teachers, who are suffering,” he said.
Nurses are also threatening to down their tools, with Zimbabwe Nurses Association secretary-general, Enock Dongo, saying in a terse response: “We are not happy at all.”
Following the industrial action by doctors, government immediately pressed the panic button, with Health and Child Care minister David Parirenyatwa telling the press yesterday that efforts were underway to attend to their grievances.
In a statement, Parirenyatwa said: “Through Statutory Instrument 111 of 2006, the Health Service Board (HSB), as the employer, has put in place a framework — the Health Service Bipartite Negotiating Panel, which guides discussion of all the conditions of service and other issues of mutual interest to both the employer and the employees.
“Following submissions by the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) to the minister of Health and Child Care through a letter dated February 5, 2018, highlighting their grievances, which included locum payments, motor vehicle scheme, availability of equipment and medicines at hospitals, staff establishment, freeze of vacant positions and review of various allowances, government has been attending to these issues.”
Notwithstanding, the doctors insist they are not calling off the strike until they see progress on their complaints.
The doctors gave notice of their intention to strike last month, which they say was ignored by Parirenyatwa.
Their first correspondence to Parirenyatwa was made on February 5.
ZHDA vice president and spokesperson, Mxolisi Ngwenya, said Parirenyatwa should first address their issues and not embark on cheap media propaganda.
“We have had enough. Patients die on our watch because of shortage of equipment. Patients are buying medicines from their own pockets, a clear abuse of the taxpayer’s money. Imali eyanikwa ihealth ingaphi (where is money given to the health sector?) We earn paltry salaries and can’t even afford our own selves. Whoever has that money allocated to health should go to work. Thina asfuni bumbulu (We don’t want nonsense),” Ngwenya charged.
“It has always been said that plans are in progress to resuscitate our health sector by acquiring necessary materials and essential medicines, but little to no progress has been seen on the ground. When will tangible, objective results be seen at our hospitals? We sought clarity as to when the locums will be paid, and that was not mentioned in the response from the HSB,” said Ngwenya.
In a letter submitted to the ministry and HSB, the association highlighted that they needed government to create more posts from the current job freeze to lessen their workload.
“The effort made to create posts in 2017 was noted and appreciated. However, these posts remain in sufficient. Our initial letter implored the ministry to create more posts, not to remind us of those previously created. A promise was made to increase on-call allowance to $720 three years ago. The effort made to increase it by $72 last year is notable, but falls short of the 2014 promise by over 100 percent. Working hours still remain undefined and have seemingly been left to the discretion of hospital administrators,” reads the letter obtained by the Daily News on Sunday on Friday.
Meanwhile, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) has also warned of imminent industrial action if the government fails to address the civil service’s resistance to its relocation to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).
Zimta chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said the shunting of the civil service to the Office of the President and Cabinet, announced on December 27 last year by Information, Media, and Broadcasting Services permanent secretary George Charamba, was an unconstitutional move by the government meant to disenfranchise civil servants.
“We want to create dialogue before conflict but our members are running out of patience. During the (provincial) annual general meetings we recently held they have been speaking very clearly that they are now ready to throw caution to the wind.
“We have tried engage government it looks like they are too busy with the legacy issues instead of addressing some of these fundamental issues affecting the workers in the civil service,” Ndlovu told the Daily News on Sunday.
The Zimta chief executive officer hinted that the transfer of the civil service to the OPC will figure prominently when Zimbabwe’s largest teacher’s union holds its annual general meeting next month.
In response to pressure from its restive membership, Ndlovu said Zimta, which regards the shift of the civil service to OPC as a blatant attack on workers’ rights, has since written to Mnangagwa to register its disapproval of the move.
In the three-page letter dated January 19, signed by Zimta secretary-general Tapson Nganunu Sibanda, the teachers union attacked the Mnangagwa administration for violating the Constitution.
“The shift of the civil service to the OPC will amount to acting in violation of the supreme law of the land i.e the Constitution of Zimbabwe, in that the civil service will be left with no minister. This will be contrary to section 201 of the Constitution which mandates that ‘the President must appoint a minister to be to be responsible for the civil service,” reads part of the letter.
The absence of a minister in charge of government workers, according to Zimta, effectively renders the civil service ineffective.
“In terms of section 203 (3) of the Constitution, the Civil Service Commission also exercises its functions in accordance with general policy directives which the minister responsible for the civil service may give. As announced, there will be no minister responsible for the civil service owing to the reconfiguration.
“This will make the Civil Service Commission, a creature of the Constitution, ineffective since there will no minister to give them policy directives. Any other directive given by any other person who is not a minister to the commission will be unconstitutional,” said the Zimta secretary-general, adding that Mnangagwa has no constitutional mandate to directly superintend the civil service.
“…there is no provision to the effect that the OPC has an active role in the administration of the civil service. The functions are exercisable by the commission and the minister responsible for the civil service.”
Zimta is convinced that the relocation of the civil service to the OPC was motivated by the Mnangagwa administration’s determination to disempower civil servants from engaging in industrial action.
“The civil service is now being placed under the OPC which also houses the security forces who are exempted from the enjoyment of certain labour rights such as collective bargaining, right to organise and to engage in collective job action, strike or sit-ins.
“As it stands, we also submit that our constitutional rights to just administrative action was not respected since there was no consultation and no reasons whatsoever availed to us or our concerned members,” the teachers union said.