The outcome of salary negotiations between the government and trade unions has broken the hearts of many civil servants who had so much faith in their representatives.
The PF government has raped the poor government employees because union leaders failed to show their determination and aggression in demanding cost reflective salaries at the negotiation table.
People may choose to condemn the PF government for being heartless, for showing no compassion; but the truth is that civil servants’ representatives did a pathetic job, for which they deserve to be criticised.
Accepting a seven per cent salary increment after four years of back-to-back upward adjustments in all commodities is a sign that our trade unions in Zambia have lost value.
There is no government, anywhere in the world, that goes to the negotiation table, offering too much for the trade unions to decide how much to take. That is why it is called a negotiation; a bargaining process, where government presents an offer they are comfortable with and the civil servants demands what they can survive with.
But listening to the Civil Servants and Allied Workers Union (CSAWU)’s justification for accepting a seven to nine per cent pay rise for workers, makes ones heart bleed.
“We had no choice but to agree because if we entered into a dispute, we would have lost everything. If our workers remember what happened in 2014 after we entered into a dispute with government we ended up losing everything. Our members will complain, but we made the move in the best interest of the workforce. We suspect that government came into this meeting with the insinuation that we will refuse the offer and enter into a dispute which might take years to resolve, so that we lose out,” stated the CSAWU.
“Otherwise, as a labour movement, we have nothing to write home about this increment. But we also had to look at our country’s economic situation which is not doing well and as such we had to be patriotic and help government reach its bench mark as required by the International Monetary Fund.”
How can a labour movement be so smart to recognise the fact that government deliberately offered them a ridiculous pay rise so as to create a dispute, but at the same time accept the meaningless adjustment? What is the essence of taking what you don’t desire, and giving political mileage to an inconsiderate government? What Patriotism are they talking about? Doesn’t anyone in the CSAWU recall that that the Republican President increased his salary during a wage freeze for government workers?
This is failure to bargain. This is being toothless and there is no better way to put it other than stating that the union leaders have killed the poor workers. They have played an accomplice role in ensuring that the civil servants are devastated to death at the hands of an insensitive government; a government that has its priorities upside down.
They can claim that they did everything they possibly could, but as citizens who have previously seen results achieved by action oriented unions, we can safely say that those who negotiated a seven per cent pay rise for the struggling civil servants were not any less than cowards.
We say this because being a union leader calls for a lot of sacrifice. Unionised workers expect more from their union leaders than they expect from a Republican President. This is because politicians never look back at who was holding the ladder while they climbed to the top. So the responsibility to demand what is due to the poor worker lies in the hands of those who speak for them.
This government understands what words like “cost reflective” and “sustainable income” mean. Those are the words they used when increasing the cost of electricity, that is the language they used when explaining the removal of fuel subsidies. How can they come today and say ‘the IMF has given us conditions not to overspend’? Has the IMF said ‘kill your civil servants if you want our money’? Governments will always have reasons against spending on its workers, that is why we join the poor civil servants in condemning their union representatives for allowing the PF to hide behind the IMF.
The Zambian labour movement has accepted intimidation for way too long. They have lost the zeal. There is nothing they can get from the government if those in the system don’t want to give. We know that the PF government has been victimising vocal leaders, but there is undisputed power in unity. We saw how Peter Mwale led his judiciary workers to a nationwide strike in the face of threats from Fackson Shamenda. We also recall how Martin Maseka at ZNBC told Chishimba Kambwili that he was talking nonsense, and further countered the minister’s threats with a legal suit. That is how it ought to be. Union leaders must be ready to be victimised. They should be ready to lose their jobs if that is what it takes to stand for the people.
But our current labour movement is led by people who don’t appreciate the power that lies in unity. They don’t understand that they are the government. They are in charge of the system. If they put their feet down, all government operations grind to a halt. That is the ultimate bargaining chip they could have invoked. But they went to the negotiation table, shared tea and biscuits, and left with nothing but full stomachs, a few coins to mask their shame and a rich vocabulary of IMF English.
Our advice to the civil servants is that they must check the leadership qualities of those who represent their interests. They must not be gullible over this issue and take any nonsense that comes from their leaders. Trade unions must not be allowed to go into such deep sleep that they even start bed wetting while claiming to be fighting for the poor workers.
The same way that citizens demand a change of government when those in leadership start snoring, is the same way that civil servants must call it off on their representatives and find people who can get the job done.
When a village warrior claiming to be brave offers to climb a tree to fetch fruits on behalf of others, but decides to satisfy his stomach first, the village people have the right to stone the glutton out of the branches.