HARARE – Government could be headed for a complete shutdown if it does not urgently address the concerns of its employees who are downing tools to press for better pay and improved working conditions, analysts warned this week.
This comes as teachers, specialist doctors, radiographers and nurses have joined the month-long industrial action by junior doctors at the country’s public health institutions who are demanding payment of salaries in United States dollars (USDs).
Government has called for a crunch meeting with leaders of workers’ unions tomorrow in a desperate bid to find common ground.
In statement issued on Friday, Local Government minister July Moyo said the indaba demonstrates government’s commitment to engaging “with all its employees in pursuit of developing common positions in relation to the improvement of employee salaries and generally resolve any matters that impact their conditions of service”.
The meeting will also be attended by representatives from the ministries of Labour; Finance; Primary and Secondary Education; Higher and Tertiary Education as well as the chairperson of the Public Service Commission Vincent Hungwe.
Analysts told the Daily News on Sunday this week that the country was sitting on the edge of a cliff and that government must urgently find a solution to the labour crisis to avoid a total shutdown.
Respected economist John Robertson said the current labour unrest could lead to a government shutdown with a negative impact on President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s attempts to lure investors to inject fresh capital in the economy.
“The impact of the current unrest is economic shutdown and it is such that it makes the country unstable and unattractive to investors,” Robertson said adding that “falling revenues would be one of the results of an economic shutdown that is looming”.
“More job losses will follow, coupled by a mass exodus of skilled labour and that will leave us all poorer hence we must work together to urgently fix the problems.”
Robertson said government desperately needs teachers, doctors, nurses and customs officials to always be at work to serve the people.
He said it is critical for government workers to feel motivated, have adequate equipment and training to be able to effectively discharge their duties.
“For that they need to be well paid to enjoy comfortable standards of living and be proud to be public servants. However, at present the ones trying to do a good job feel victimised and the public feels cheated,” he said.
Economist Christopher Mugaga said government should be cautious when dealing with civil servants, warning that being political about the on-going industrial action could only harden the positions of the aggrieved civil servants.
“This idea of having the Vice President (Constantino Chiwenga) to deal with labour issues is not the best. There is need to tone down, politically, realising that when they talk to teachers, for example, they are also talking to an employee — say at the ministry of Finance — who may not necessarily be vocal but has silently chosen not to be effective in delivering his/her mandate and that is not good,” Mugaga warned.
He said there is need to develop a social contract between business and labour in which no one assumes a superior position to the other to avoid “breeding a militant
labour and a restive civil service that is inefficient because the austerity that is being preached will come under threat”.
Mugaga, however, said paying civil servants in United States dollars or increasing salaries was not the best solution.
He said increasing productivity was the only way out of the quagmire.
Government is already on record saying it has no capacity to meet its workers’ demand to be paid in USDs.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has demanded that Mnangagwa’s government decisively tackle the country’s economic challenges or risk workers going on an indefinite strike saying thousands of employees were on the verge of losing their jobs as companies shut down while earnings have been severely eroded by inflation.
While salaries for workers remain benchmarked at USD values, employees are getting paid in bond notes and electronic transfers, whose values have plunged dramatically since September last year.
Still, government insists that its surrogate currency is at par with the greenback.
In shops, prices in bond notes and RTGS have been adjusted to mirror rates obtaining on the black market — exposing the discrepancies between government policy and reality on the ground.
Already, the ZCTU has started telling its members in the mining, cotton and tobacco industries not to accept payment in RTGS and bond notes, but insist on USDs.
Last month, economist Joseph Kanyenze predicted the on-going labour crisis, suggesting that the only way out was a meeting of the minds between government and workers in dealing with the current crisis.
“Even if people are not mobilised you could see social unrest. Workers can down tools, yes, because of the loss of value in their salaries, but that will not be a solution, dialogue for a social contract will bring us out of this crisis,” he said.