Govt refuses civil servants pay increase-(22-02-07)

Z$300 million spent on Mugabe birthday bash
HARARE - President Robert Mugabe's government this week turned down pay rise demands from hundreds of thousands of poorly paid civil servants, saying it could not afford the

extra billions, at a time the governing Zanu (PF) party has raised Z$300 million to bankroll an 83rd birthday party for the veteran leader in the Midlands provincial capital, Gweru on Saturday.
Government, which agreed to award a pay rise of only 250 percent, said the hikes requested for civil servants would lead to a salary revision for all public sector employees and cost government an extra $45 billion every month.
The 250 percent increase awarded by government means the minimum wage in the public sector would rise to a paltry $200,000; which is just enough for bus fare for a worker staying in Chitungwiza for instance.
Civil servants, represented by the Apex Council, had given the government until Friday last week to meet their demands for a minimum wage of $450,000; which is in tandem with the Poverty Datum Line (PDL). Apex Council spokesman Tendai Chikowore told a press briefing in central Harare weekend: “As workers we reject the (government’s) offer simply because it falls far below the PDL.”
Government immediately responded saying it had no money to bankroll “such a hefty hike”.
“At present, government does not have the capacity to cough up such a big sum,” Labour Minister Nicholas Goche was quoted by state radio here. “The government’s financial capability must also be taken into consideration.”
Labour unions reportedly said earlier in the week they would continue demanding pay hikes for some 180,000 civil servants, whose salaries are lagging far behind Zimbabwe’s galloping hyperinflation, currently running at 1,593 percent – the highest in the world.
Political leaders have tried to sweep the grievances of the civil servants under the carpet by floating various conspiracy theories.
But the problem has refused to die down as its roots lie within the civil service, the exploitation of labour and Zimbabwe’s deepening economic hardships blamed on President Mugabe’s misrule.
The state-owned Sunday Mail quoted an unnamed government official alleging the Apex Council was being used as “an instrument of the opposition by forces bent on promoting civil disobedience in Zimbabwe.”
Unfortunately for civil servants, this labour unrest has taken place at a time when the main opposition party is also leading a movement for political reforms in the country.
Increased political activity in the form of political agitation was expected as President Mugabe, who turned 83 yesterday, but has deferred his birthday celebrations to Saturday, is attempting to postpone presidential elections, due in March 2008 to 2010.
The political instability has been made worse by the simultaneous labour unrest across all sectors in the country’s economic lifeline. Farm workers are on strike, so are doctors, nurses, teachers, university support staff and so on. Protests over low wages and other exploitative conditions have continued since the start of this year. Labour experts said the current situation in the civil service was a powder keg that had taken too long to resolve and could lead to an explosion of anger.
The Zimbabwean heard that the acting head of Zimbabwe’s police force, Commissioner Godwin Matanga had also called for a rise in the basic salary of lower-ranking police personnel.
This follows a salary hike awarded to armed forces recently. Soldiers have been given an efficiency allowance of between 20 and 30 percent backdated to January, which was paid with their February salary. The hike is widely seen as an inducement to motivate the security arm to counter any strikes against government amid mounting public anger spawned by poor salaries and skyrocketing prices of basics.
This means soldiers now earn almost $200,000 from the $140,000 that a private was earning previously, broken down as $84,000 basic and the rest being transport and housing allowances. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe defines hardcore poor as those in households comprising six members but earning less than $450,000 a month. Some 80 percent of Zimbabwe’s 12,5 million population fall into this category. – Gift Phiri

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