Zimbabwean Public Service Minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said Tuesday that the government has not yet awarded state employees salary increases, contrary to reports civil servants will receive a US$30 base pay rise to take effect this month.
Mukonoweshuro said an announcement Friday by the Joint Negotiating Council saying salaries of the lowest-paid state workers would rise to US$253 a month was baseless, irresponsible and intended to cause friction among the parties in the national unity government, which have differed strongly on the public sector pay question.
Mukonoweshuro said the Joint Negotiating Council does not have the authority to make such announcements, which are his responsibility as public service minister.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has already expressed dismay over the announced pay increases noting that they are well below the official poverty line but nonetheless will throw the budget into deficit as the government lacks the funds to meet new costs.
Mukonoweshuro said the cabinet has not yet decided on the pay raise that was leaked to the press by the Joint Negotiating Council. “As far as I am concerned negotiations are still underway and I am yet to receive details of the proceedings of the last Apex Council meeting held in Harare last week,” Mukonoweshuro said.
But Chairwoman Tendai Chikowore of the Apex Council, which negotiates for state workers, insisted that the deal she announced last week is binding “since we agreed with government representatives on the pay increases.”
Economist John Robertson said the question of increased civil service pay is being manipulated by President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF to embarrass Finance Minister Tendai Biti of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change wing.
With the encouragement of the International Monetary Fund, Biti had been holding the line on public sector pay, warning that increases would bust the budget.
Robertson noted that government officials on the Joint Negotiating Council did not make the pay agreement public as they are aware that the government does not have the revenues to support a public sector raise. He warned that Zimbabwe will plunge into a financial crisis if Harare increases civil servant salaries at this point.
Treasury sources said they were stunned by the announcement as there is no source of funding for the salary increases. “The whole negotiation process is being circumvented by ZANU-PF in order to stop the finance minister from getting rid of 75,000 ghost workers and as it is right now we do know what to do,” said one such source.
Biti has stated that civil service salaries cannot be increased until more is known about the disposition of revenues from the controversial Marange diamond field, and until the estimated 75,000 non-working civil servants are purged from state payrolls. Many of them are youth militia engaged by the previous Mugabe government.