Chitungwiza workers protest against Chombo's directive

HARARE - Chitungwiza municipal employees have slammed government’s directive to write-off debts owed to local authorities at a time they have gone for more than seven months without salaries.

The municipality, which owes its employees in excess of $6 million in unpaid salaries, yesterday became the first among the big local authorities to write-off debts in compliance with a directive by outgoing Local Government minister Ignatius Chombo.

All debts dating back to February 2009 have been cancelled.

Chitungwiza management has been blaming failure to pay salaries on the non-payment of rates by residents who owed council over $40 million in unpaid rates and rentals before Chombo’s directive.

Town clerk George Makunde says council had hoped to clear its salary arrears using the revenue from the rates.

But with the government directive coming amid dwindling revenues, there is no end in sight for the reeling workers in the sprawling town as most residents received bills of about $19 for July, with their backlog scrapped.

Ephraim Katsina, the chairperson of Zimbabwe Urban Council Workers Union (ZUCWU) which represents Chitungwiza employees, told the Daily News yesterday that workers were not happy with the decision and were worried that things may be going from bad to worse.

“It is an unfortunate development unless they (government) have a plan to bail us out,” Katsina said.

“It is difficult to think about what is going to happen to us. It is a hot one as we have not been able to get paid for seven months plus when people were paying their bills albeit in trickles.

“It will be more difficult now that their debts have been scrapped and we are currently seized with the matter but workers have a feeling that their future is doomed. Since the announcement was made just before the elections, revenue inflows have dwindled with council collecting an average of $7 000 per day compared to the usual $50 000.

“This means that our salary problems will persist yet management wants us to be productive, I think it (scrapping debts) was not properly planned for,” said Katsina.

Katsina said as workers, they were engaging their employer seeking to compel them to give them a two-month once-off payment then stagger the other six months’ payment at intervals to cushion them as they are in danger of being evicted from their homes.

“We are currently discussing with the employer on a payment plan at the arbitration court. We are meeting again on the 20th of this month and we pray that the arbitrator will award us our demands,” he said.

It will however, be a tough call for the city fathers who say the town is broke.

While residents received the news with jubilation, the situation for the employees remains dire.

It is made worse by the fact that residents who were up-to-date with their payments will enjoy a 30 percent discount until December as an incentive.

In January, Chitungwiza workers chose to forego all their allowances in return for regular payment of salaries after council had proposed to either introduce special measures to avoid retrenchment by reducing working hours as enunciated in chapter 28 (01) section 12 of the Labour Act or maintain the status quo.

The employees argued that the other option would have affected their pensions.

The employees have endured long periods of late payment of their salaries since 2008 leading to numerous strikes amid allegations of corruption by management and councillors, some of them fired by Chombo.

 

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