HARARE - Some workers at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) workers will for the next three days embark on a spiritual fast in a move aimed at unlocking their unpaid salaries.
The move is also viewed as a hunger strike.
Workers at the State broadcaster, which operates four radio and two television stations, have been sending messages to each other via their mobile phones urging all workers to start the fast as a protest over non-payment of salaries and cancellation of medical aid.
ZBC employees have gone from April without salaries at a time when their bosses are said to be earning about $20 000 a month each while driving top-of-the-range Mercedes Benz vehicles and Toyota V8 vehicles.
ZBC chief executive, Happyson Muchechetere.
The State broadcaster has been erratically struggling to pay its workers since last year and has been relying on overdrafts to finance its soaring wage bill driven mostly by the excessive and unsustainable perks for top management.
Workers at ZBC said the fast is starting today and will be in force for the next three days.
“We will be fasting for three days, for basically two things — our salaries and medical aid scheme,” said a worker who spoke on condition of anonymity fearing victimisation.
“While our salaries are not forthcoming, they have also cancelled our medical aid.
“Without these two basics, we are struggling to live. We have no food and cannot send our children to school. Without the medical aid, families have been struggling to meet medical costs.”
Sivukile Simango, ZBC public relations officer, told the Daily News yesterday that while reports of the fast was news to him, “I have however, heard that there have been messages being sent on workers’ mobile phones to that effect.”
Simango said it would be ill-advised for workers at ZBC to take such action.
“If they decide to seek divine intervention, then let them do so, but at their own peril,” Simango said.
“We, as management, have sat down with the workers and told them how things look and it is no secret that finances are not good. We have other media houses retrenching but did they ever come to ZBC and say, can you report this? Why should ZBC staff report to you?”
Simango said those making “noise” on outstanding salaries were not being truthful.
“We have been giving workers advance salaries and most of these workers are actually paid off in full through this arrangement,” Simango said.
“The workers know what to do, who to deal with if they have any financial problems and we have been attending to all workers’ needs.”
A worker at ZBC said the advances that Simango was talking about were not helping in any way. The employees claimed that they were sometimes given $60 to $100 in advances on different days of the month for their sustenance.
“Why should I be asking for an advance salary each and every month?” fumed another worker. “Why should I go in their offices day in day out trying to ask for money for my sick child? I just need a normal salary in my bank. Why negotiate for a monthly living allowance?”
ZBC staff are now pinning their hopes on Jonathan Moyo, the new Media, Information and Broadcasting Services minister to address their plight.
They also hope that heads will soon roll at the State institution.
Critical skilled staff has been resigning over the years, crippling the smooth flow of broadcasts, while stability has been elusive due to an “irrational” restructuring exercise usually initiated by politicians and bureaucrats.
ZBC workers complained that what frustrated them most was that politicians and bureaucrats concentrated more on fighting for influence without addressing their welfare.
In March, the outgoing parliamentary portfolio committee on Media, Information and Communication Technology reported widespread disgruntlement among workers over ZBC’s failure to pay staff salaries on time.
The committee said this was compromising the quality of programming at the State broadcaster.
Settlement Chikwinya, chairman of the committee, told local media then that ZBC staff had not been paid for two months.
“The chief executive officer, Happyson Muchechetere, insisted they had been paid, but in separate interviews, the workers said the broadcaster owed them two months’ salaries,” he told journalists after the ZBC tour.
During the tour, Muchechetere said ZBC had imported broadcasting equipment from China worth $6,5 million, which included an outside broadcasting van and a digital satellite news-gathering van under a government-to-government agreement.
In a letter dated May 30, ZBC employees appealed to President Robert Mugabe to intervene to address their plight.
The employees said they were failing to buy food, pay rentals and school fees for their children because they were not being paid by the country’s sole broadcasting authority.
The letter, which was not signed for fear of victimisation, was copied to Webster Shamu, the then minister of Media, Information and Publicity and ZBC management.
The employees alleged management was arrogant whenever they asked for their salaries and better working conditions.
“What this means is (that) for three months, we have not paid our rentals, utility bills and accounts, school fees for our children, food for our families not to mention our extended families,” wrote the employees.
“The truth of the matter is you have a demoralised and impoverished (the) staff …at ZBC whose basic workers’ rights continue to be violated despite the fact that it is us who keep the machine running.”