Government meets divided civil servants

HARARE - Government will meet leaders of the Apex Council this week to consider civil servants’ demands for improved working conditions in a bid to avert a looming industrial action.

Teachers have threatened to stage a nationwide strike, starting next term, if government fails to meet their demands for a pay hike and a review of rural-based educators’ allowances, among other things.

The threat comes amid unrest in the civil service, which saw public hospital doctors taking a month-long industrial action, demanding improved working conditions.

The doctors have since returned to work after government gave in to their demands.

Emboldened by the development, other civil servants are also demanding an upward review of their working conditions.

Apex Council chairperson Cecilia Alexander told the Daily News yesterday that a meeting had been pencilled for this week between representatives of the government workers and the minister of State for Presidential Affairs and Monitoring Implementation of Government Programmes Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.

“We are meeting with the minister to discuss our welfare for the first time this week although no date has been set yet as we were only told to be on standby,” Alexander said.

The meeting comes amid divisions in the Apex Council with unions, especially those representing teachers, accusing Alexander of being a puppet of their employer.

The teachers allege that Alexander has not done anything to confront government on issues to do with their welfare, including restoration of their vacation leave scraped last year.

Responding to the allegations, Alexander admitted that of all civil servants, teachers were the most ill-treated by government.

“We have always said that this is an outstanding issue that needs urgent attention because government seems to treat teachers unfairly given that their vacation leave was deferred and we are going to table this when we meet the minister.

“We will discuss civil servants’ welfare in general but that one is an issue we will put on our front burner and it is good that five of the nine members of the Apex Council are from education,” she said.

Alexander, however, denied siding with government saying she only advocates engagement as opposed to confrontation.

She said the Apex Council will not back teachers should they decided to engage in industrial action when the next school term begins next month.

“We only believe in lawful action and we think also that the action should not be sectoral but rather collective as the Apex Council. If unions decided to go it alone, well, it is their right but we will not support them because we have a new minister whom we want to give time in his new role,” Alexander said.

At least six teachers’ unions, the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’’ Union of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe National Teachers Union, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Democratic Teachers’ Union and the Professional Educators’ Union of Zimbabwe made the strike threat two weeks ago.

The appointment of Mumbengegwi recently to superintend over the civil service came after the Apex Council had written to President Emmerson Mnangagwa expressing concern over the lack of effective communication between government and its workers.

This followed the reconfiguration of the ministry of Labour and Social Welfare which saw civil servants being placed under the Office of the President and Cabinet.

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