Felex Share Senior Reporter—
Government is mobilising funds to pay civil servants bonuses and the dates on which they will start receiving the 13th cheque will be announced in due course, Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira has said. The announcement came yesterday as anxiety had gripped the civil service, with the Apex Council, a body that represents Government workers in salary negotiations, demanding that the employer gives exact dates for payment of the bonuses.
Some members of the uniformed forces got their salaries on Tuesday without bonus, triggering speculation that they would not get the 13th cheque at all. However, Minister Mupfumira said the issue of bonuses was work in progress. “Government is willing and will pay despite the financial constraints it is facing,” she said.
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“Treasury is mobilising resources for salaries and any other obligation, including bonuses. We will notify the workers in due course when we get the exact dates from Treasury. As I have said before, it is not a matter of if (the bonuses would be paid) but only a matter of when.” Traditionally, civil servants receive their bonuses in November, but since the introduction of the multi-currency regime, payment dates have largely been staggered.
Earlier this year, Finance and Economic Development Minister Patrick Chinamasa said Government had suspended the payment of bonuses, albeit without the approval of the Presidency and Cabinet, for the next two years to create fiscal space to fund Zim-Asset.
President Mugabe then overturned the move a few weeks later saying “the rules are that when Government bestows a benefit on civil servants, that benefit cannot be withdrawn because it has become a right.”
Recently, Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is leader of Government business in the House of Assembly, told parliamentarians that President Mugabe’s assurance would be fulfilled. Indications are that the bonuses would be staggered to allow Government space to mobilise the money.
Last year, Government staggered bonus payments due to cash flow challenges and some workers received their 13th cheque as late as January this year instead of the traditional November. Minister Mupfumira said the communication she received from Treasury was that pensioners would be paid their November payouts next Monday.
They were due to have been paid on November 30, but the date was moved to Thursday last week before being shifted to December 21. Some pensioners had resorted to sleeping in bank queues anticipating the payouts. Government has come up with a number of strategies to steer economic growth by reducing the civil service wage bill, which chews about 83 percent of revenue.
Student teachers and trainees’ allowances have been reduced from $329 to $157, while salaries for teachers at private and trust schools have been terminated.
All vacant posts have been abolished, bus fare for civil servants has been reintroduced, under-used staff is being redeployed, funding of bridging courses has been scrapped while all members who were abusing various types of leave, tampering with pay sheets and attendance registers have been charged.
Civil servants are now making a 7,5 percent pension contribution to the Public Service Pension. Government workers had not been contributing pension since 2009 when everyone was getting a flat $100. Despite non-contribution by members, Government continued paying out full pension benefits to members after termination and the situation was now said to be unsustainable, with a huge backlog of commutations accumulating.
Meanwhile, Minister Mupfumira said Government would intervene to resolve the salary impasse between sugar giant Tongaat Hulett and its employees. The over 16 000 workforce at Tongaat Hullet went on strike early this month demanding a minimum wage of $350 from $170 per month. This, the workers argued, would put them at par with the company’s subsidiaries in Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique.
Said Minister Mupfumira: “Legal practitioners from both sides had indicated that the issue had been resolved but we have been advised that the workers unions are demanding more. It is now back to the drawing board and Government is intervening with extreme urgency in this case.”
The workers claim the minimum wage for an employee in the lowest grade in Tongaat Hulett-Mozambique, for instance, was $480, South Africa R6,000 and in Swaziland $400.