Stay-away looms over fuel price hike Print

THE cash-strapped unity government faces a backlash after it arbitrarily increased the price of fuel as a way of raising funds needed to bankroll the weekend referendum and harmonised elections later this year. Labour unions have been peeved by the fuel price hike that would push their embattled members further down the ranks of poverty.


Created : 19 March 2013


Adapted from The Financial Gazette of 14 March 2013

Hardliners within the unions want all trade unions to simultaneously call for a crippling stay-away to force government to reverse its decision that has the effect of pushing up prices of all goods and services at a time when disposable incomes are way below the breadline.
With industry still in the intensive care, very few companies are likely to afford demands for salary and wage reviews to be triggered by the escalation in fuel prices.
In the public service, the country’s largest employer, employees are taking home salaries that are way below the poverty datum line (PDL), estimated at slightly over US$600.
Sources in the public service said yesterday while civil servants were yet to digest the full-effects of the fuel price hike, there was agitation among militant unions, pushing for a strike after the adoption of a new constitution which allows government workers to engage in organised industrial action.
What appears to be infuriating civil servants is that the latest fuel price adjustment would wipe-out the 5,3 percent increase the coalition government awarded all civil servants in January this year. In fact the 5,3 percent increase falls short of the civil servants’ expectations. Since the consummation of the coalition government in 2009, civil servants have been pushing for a monthly salary commensurate with the PDL.
The least paid civil servant presently takes home about US$296 a month.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti on Monday announced an increase in excise duty for diesel from 20 cents to 25 per litre while petrol was hiked from 25 cents to 30 cents per litre with effect from Saturday last week.
The increase would hit the ordinary person the hardest because of its ripple effect on transport costs and the pricing of goods and services.
Sifiso Ndlovu, the chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, said civil servants would have to engage their employer before deciding on what course action to take.
“This is disappointing. We are going back to the pre-coalition era. The latest hike has a ripple effect on almost everything,” said Ndlovu.
“The civil servants are agitated. Government must brace up for a winter of discontent as another round of demands for increments looms,” he said.
Takavafira Zhou, president of the militant Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), said the latest increase was an affront on the country’s public servants that have been pushing for a living wage from the coalition government.
Zhou said while PTUZ was consulting its membership, the feedback the organisation was getting was that “enough is enough”.
He said civil servants were agitating for a strike in the wake of the latest developments in which public workers would be forced to cough more for transport, rent and food, among other things.
“This is a betrayal of civil servants. The government has just shown it does not care about its workers,” said Zhou.
“It is one of the worst decisions by a coalition government which is underpaying its workers. We need to take action but it is premature to declare when this will be as we are still getting feedback from our structures. But civil servants are saying enough is enough because the fuel increase has ripple effects, transport and food costs will certainly go up, further burdening the long-suffering public worker,” he added.
David Dzatsunga, the chairperson of the APEX Council, said the fuel hike has angered civil servants.
Dzatsunga, however, said it would be difficult to mobilise for an industrial action at a time when civil servants had made a beeline for the referendum where some of them are polling officers.
“It shows how politicians have become selfish as to disregard the genuine concerns of the public workers. We are very unhappy with the increase and it calls for industrial action but with divisions among the unions and the present political environment it will be difficult to mobilise for strike. Maybe after the adoption of a new constitution as it allows some small space to engage in organised industrial action,” he said.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) yesterday said it would be writing to government objecting the latest hike.
Japhet Moyo, the secretary general of ZCTU, said government had other means of raising funds to bankroll the referendum and elections.
He warned of crippling industrial action if the government failed to rescind its decision.
“It is very unfair to the workers. We have warned the government in a statement and we will be formally writing to the Finance Minister outlining our objections. Zimbabwe workers are one of the highly taxed particularly for a country which is not at war. If it was Israel I will understand because it is at war. We do not expect the workers to fund-raise for elections. The government has other sources of income for instance from the diamonds proceeds from Marange. Where is the money from Marange diamond fields going?”