No salary freeze says PM Tsvangirai

PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was Saturday forced to make a public retraction of recent statements by senior government officials that all salaries had been frozen in a bid to contain growing unrest among workers who feel neglected by the inclusive government.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti last week said the government had frozen civil servants’ salaries saying the government wage bill was too big.
This sparked a huge storm among workers’ representatives, who said the announcement was insensitive to their plight, with many pushing for fresh elections fully supervised by local, regional and international election observers.

Biti’s announcement also appeared to have widened the rift between the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

Last week, ZCTU president Lovemore Matombo told a radio station that the MDC-T had already “disengaged” from the ZCTU.

But yesterday they appeared to have found each other again when the MDC-T stuck to its tradition of joining the ZCTU in Workers’ Day celebrations, and took part at the main commemorations in Harare.

Tsvangirai and a number of senior MDC-T officials attended the event.

Speaking at the workers event, Tsvangirai assured workers that the salary freeze was not in line with government policy adding the door was still open for negotiations.

“The government did not announce a wage freeze,” said Tsvangirai.

“There is no government policy on wage freeze. If ever there is going to be such a policy, it must also take into consideration the price freeze.
“There is no government policy I know of on wage freeze.”

Tsvangirai said the government was “very serious” about resolving the salary discrepancies in the public service and ensuring a better quality of life for workers.

Matombo said if the government did not urgently address the salaries issue, workers would take to the streets.

“No one should freeze salaries,” said Matombo. “If you want to freeze salaries, why not go ahead and do it secretly with employers, rather than to make a public announcement without even negotiating because it shows total disrespect (for workers). We are not afraid of anything. We are prepared to take into the streets.”

Matombo said the current salary scales in the country were “much lower than those during Ian Smith’s UDI (Unilateral Declaration of Independence), 30 years after Independence.”

ZCTU secretary general Wellington Chibhebhe said the coming in of the inclusive government had not brought about any meaningful changes for the workers.

“The journey we have walked since May 1 last year is like we are moving backwards.

“The explanation from the government since 1980 is still the same, that there is no money.

“This very worrying for us because there is money for everything else except salaries of workers,” said Chibhebhe.

Representatives of various civil society organisations also challenged the government to be more sensitive with the plight of workers.

Meanwhile, three journalists from The Standard almost failed to cover the ZCTU’s May Day event in Dzivaresekwa after some overzealous security personnel demanded press cards.

But even after presenting the press cards the guards went on to deny them entry.

Senior reporters Bertha Shoko and Vusumuzi Sifile, and photographer Shepherd Tozvireva had to seek the intervention of MDC-T spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.

More than a year into the life of the inclusive government, yesterday’s events also proved that there are still wide divisions among workers along political lines, when some workers boycotted the ZCTU event to attend a parallel programme organised by Joseph Chinotimba’s Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU).

A handful of people attended the ZFTU-led celebrations at Gwanzura stadium.

BY VUSUMUZI SIFILE AND BERTHA SHOKO0PM mbeki bob

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