The government says it cannot pay its workers’ salaries in foreign currency but will rather work to improve the country’s economy and strengthen the local Zimbabwean currency, a move that is more likely to further infuriate civil servants who are demanding to be paid in United States (US) dollars.
These sentiments were made by Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ziyambi Ziyambi while responding to questions in Parliament on Wednesday regarding the continued protests of health workers and the issue of civil servants’ salaries.
Civil servants rejected a 100 percent government wage increase in local currency with effect from July 1 while nurses have been demanding a salary of US$840 and improved working conditions
“Our currency is the Zimbabwe dollar and when revenue is getting into our consolidated account, we do not ask whether they used which currency they used when they were selling the official exchange,” Ziyambi said.
“We are working towards removing whatever factors that are influencing the decline of our currency. However, we cannot and we will not determine salaries on the basis of the USD. We will work around improving our economy and strengthening our currency but will never go to a scenario where we peg salaries using the USD.”
Ziyambi’s sentiments differ from what Finance and Economic Development Minister, Professor Mthuli Ncube said after a post-Cabinet briefing Tuesday, that the government had not yet ruled out the possibility of paying civil servants’ salaries in US dollars.
Prof Ncube cited the current US$175 incentive as evidence of the government’s willingness to meet workers’ demands.
However, Ziyambi said negotiations were continuing and the health workers were contacted by the Ministry of Health and Child Care, which advised them consultations were still ongoing.
“They must wait until the conclusion of that process while they are at work,” he said and dismissed claims that a majority of health workers were on strike.
“It is only a few who were on strike yesterday or the day before and they have been advised that negotiations for a salary increase are ongoing and they must go back to their stations.”
Matabeleland South Legislator, Sipho Mokone, asked Ziyambi to say “what the stumbling blocks to both parties was in achieving a lasting solution since these negotiations had been ongoing for years.”
Another legislator, Sipiwe Muchaneta Muchenje opined that wages could be ‘successfully’ negotiated if conditions in Zimbabwe were normal but they were not.
“We cannot continue in this country without nurses and doctors that are at work. People are dying and we are also in a drought situation. May the hon. minister come up with a timeline as to when the negotiations can be done so that the process can be quickened?” she said.
The minister responded that the purpose of the negotiation was to achieve consensus and conclude them.
“If two or more people are having a negotiation, the aim is that they should quickly reach a conclusion but the purpose is to achieve consensus. We have Government workers and the Government who are trying to come together so that they come up with something that is good for each of the sides. So, our main aim with negotiations is to conclude as soon as possible,” Ziyambi said.
“However, we have made an offer in line with the finances that we have, so we wait for them to come back to us to say if their constituents are happy with the proposal that we have tabled.”
Ziyambi added that where there is organised labour and employers, negotiations for salaries would always be there.
“You cannot say that you can come up with a lasting solution when salaries and the conditions that industry operates in is determined by several factors that will necessitate once in a while for negotiations to take place,” he said.
Nurses currently earn an average ZWL$30 000 (less than US$50) per month while doctors are on ZWL$50 000 (about US$80) – far less than their demands for US dollar salaries of a minimum US$540.