Harare, (New Ziana) –A handful of civil servants on Wednesday turned up for the much publicized demonstration to press the the government for higher wages that are in line with the poverty datum line (PDL).
Civil servants, through their representative body, the Apex Council, last week notified the government and the police of their intention to
demonstrate as they felt the employer was not taking heed to their numerous demands for a “living wage.”
In late October, the union notified the government of the inability of its members to continue going to work due to low salaries.
And on Tuesday, a last-ditch meeting between the government and the Apex Council failed to break a longstanding salary impasse, prompting the latter to press ahead with planned demonstrations.
Apex Council co-chair, Cecelia Alexander told journalists on the sidelines of the largely unsubscribed demonstration the workers wanted the government to link their October 2018 salary of US$475, to the official exchange rate.
At the moment, the lowest paid civil servant is taking home ZWL$1 023.
If the salary, as demanded by the workers, is linked to the interbank rate, which is currently at $15.7, it would translate to ZWL$7 457.
In response, the government, which is cash stretched, said the demands were not sustainable, but still pledged to continuously review the salaries, even promising to pay the 13th cheque at the end of the year.
But the workers insist this was not enough.
At the current official rate, the lowest paid civil servant is taking home about US$65 or alternatively US$50 when using the commonly referenced parallel market rate.
“We are saying we are just workers, how the government makes and finds its money is not our business. Our business is to provide a service to citizens and when we have done that, we will be adequately remunerated,” said Alexander.
She said there was also a huge gap between the lowest paid and the highest paid in the civil service.
“What we have said is we do not want a salary increment, we just want the value of the salary we used to get restored. In October 2018, when prices were stable, the lowest in government was paid US$475 and we are saying index that to the interbank rate.”
Prices of most goods and services in the economy are linked to either the official or unofficial exchange rates, but salaries have remained unmatched, leaving many living below the PDL.
According to the government statistics agency, Zimstat, an ordinary household should earn a minimum of ZWL$2 192 a month for it not to be deemed poor.
“It is government policies that are causing all these problems and at the end of the day it will seem like we are hard headed but we are suffering,” Alexander said.
She said the poor attendance to the march was due to heavy police presence which intimidated members.
“You know when people see these water tanks and anti-riot police in full combat gear, they will rather stay away,” she said.
Police also blocked the marchers from going to the Ministries of Labour and Finance as a large group to hand over their petition, insisting only the leadership of the union should do so.