Judicial and Allied Workers Union of Zambia (JAWUZ) president Peter Mwale says government has continued punishing civil servants by denying them their benefits while pushing for the reintroduction of a wage freeze under “satanic austerity measures”.

The Public Service Management Division (PSMD) last week announced that civil servant who will chose not to go on leave beyond the prescribed period will forfeit their days and government would not pay for the commutations.

Commenting on the announcement that explained the adjustment in the management of leave days for civil servants in line with the implementation of austerity measures, Mwale wondered why government was targeting poor civil servants in its fiscal discipline.

“Those austerity measures are fake, they are not genuine but they are very useless. We have come out in the open to say the austerity measures are aimed at punishing the poor civil servants. When they introduced these so-called austerity measures, we knew that the target was going to be us the civil service and you can see that it has even come out in the open that they are targeting us. Look, those are our entitlements and they are enshrined in our terms and conditions of service in public service. So how can now the Public Service Management Division issue such a circular to say workers should forfeit their entitlements, no no, some of those entitlements we have accrued them. But we knew and we know that they are not just going to end their, the intention of these austerity measures is to impose a wage freeze on civil servants. But this time we are not going to allow that,” Mwale said.

“If these politicians and ministers up there are enjoying hefty allowances and they are able to buy very expensive vehicles, surely how can you say that these austerity measures are going to work? So you can see now that these austerity measures are just going round us civil servants. How can they surely issue a circular suggesting that civil servants should forfeit their travel benefits, commutations and so on? No! Those austerity measures believe you me, they are just aimed at punishing the already overtaxed civil servants. Even when the government was borrowing excessively, we rose as unions to say ‘this borrowing is going to affect us in future’ and by the way, if you ask, that money which they borrowed, what did it do that now we should be paying heavily for as poor civil servants?”

Mwale who regretted the grave impact that the decision by PSMD would cause, said the government must reverse its decision forthwith because it was disadvantaging the poor.

“The impact of this is so grave, the impact is so evil, it’s unfortunate and very satanic, because majority civil servants, this is where we benefit. These leave benefits, commutation benefits and all these emoluments it’s where we are surviving from. Already you can see that there are so many taxes that the government has imposed, so now again on top of those taxes there is circular. So now there will be more suffering, more misery amongst public servants. That is why we are saying that these measures are not welcome, they are in bad faith, they are evil and are aimed at making poor civil servants suffer. How are we going to work like this? It will be difficult for us to work productivity. These measures are interfering in our work because these are benefits that we are entitled to, there is no way austerity measures can deprive us of our benefits, it doesn’t make sense,” he said.

“Public servants should continue going on leave or commuting their leave days so that they are paid, these are our entitlements because these are enshrined in the terms and conditions of the public service and there is no way a circular can come and stop it. So this decision should be reversed forthwith, because it is evil and is going to cause more suffering and misery. Those that came up with the idea should listen to the suffering of the majority civil servants because most of the civil servants have not been paid their salary arrears and these same emoluments is where they survive from, so if you stop them then it means you are happy to see civil servants sufferin.”

Mwale argued that the implementation of austerity measures would have made more sense if they targeted the top ranking government officials like ministers because they were the ones benefiting more from allowances.

“Do you know how much we are getting as civil servants in terms of salaries? Majority get K2,800 to K3,000, surely if these austerity measures are aimed at addressing a particular challenge which government is facing, couldn’t they have done something else? You are aware that by the end of this year we are likely to go back to negotiations [for conditions of service], so even then they will say government has no money to give salary increments, housing allowance and transport allowances. But that we are not going to accept because these so-called austerity measures are going to cause untold misery and suffering amongst civil servants. To suggest that these austerity measures are meant to control government expenditure, who is careless in the fiscal expenditure? Is it us civil servants? No, it’s not us. So the austerity measures are not well intended, they are just going to increase the suffering. Already you can see, how can a circular came and said ‘you can’t get your leave days’. Government is going towards the emoluments of civil servants and it doesn’t make sense,” complained Mwale.

“If at all these austerity measures are well-meaning, they can’t affect the poor civil servants, because if you want to control government expenditure of public resources, you definitely start from the top. Take for example,there are so many ministers out there and they have bought very expensive vehicles and they are enjoying a lot of allowances up there. So now when they say ‘austerity measures’ it’s just there to blind ford us ciivl servants on the ground, in real sense they are not there, they just want to use them to cheat us into believing that even if we go for negotiation, there will be no salary increment for 2019 but we are saying no, because we cannot suffer at the expense of the so-called austerity measures which are not well planned and well meaning.”