ZIMBABWE – Representatives of civil servants on Wednesday met Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Dr John Mangudya whom they said gave them a “satisfactory” insight on the state of the economy, which made them rule out a premature strike that was being planned.
Members of the Apex Council, a body that represents all civil servants in salary negotiations, yesterday said Dr Mangudya assured them that the 2015 bonuses would be paid as promised and pay dates would be constant this new year.
This comes as labour lawyers yesterday said the right to strike did not apply to civil servants, adding that Section 65 of Constitution “does not saddle an employer with any legal obligation to pay a striking employee.”
The experts said civil servants were governed by the Public Service Act.
Government is yet to pay some civil servants after shifting their pay dates from December 29 to next Tuesday.
This prompted the unpaid workers, mainly healthy workers, to threaten a strike beginning today.
Some members of the uniformed forces were paid before Christmas Day, while teachers got their dues on Tuesday, instead of Monday.
Teachers Union of Zimbabwe chief executive, Mr Manuel Nyawo, said following their meeting with Dr Mangudya, they had concluded there was no need for a premature industrial action.
“He (Dr Mangudya) took us through what Government has in its coffers and the reasons for the delays in the payment of salaries,” he said.
“He assured us that bonuses will be paid and that those owed will get their salaries as announced.”
Civil Service Commission regulations call for engagement between Government and civil servants and if no solution is found, an independent arbitrator comes into play.
If the arbitrator’s decision is disputed by the employees, they can give a 14-day strike notice.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association president, Mr Richard Gundane, said the RBZ chief had created space for dialogue.
“Dr Mangudya told us that his door was open for us to have an insight of what is going on with them as bankers of Government,” he said.
“He said it was important that we have an input into the processes that feed into the monetary policy. He said frantic efforts were being made to ensure that commitments are honoured.”
Public Service Association president, Mrs Cecelia Alexander, whose constituency is yet to get paid, said the meeting had given the workers an “in-depth understanding of how the economy is performing.”
“They told us what Government has gone through to make us earn,” she said.
Labour lawyer, Mr Caleb Mucheche, said while Section 65 (3) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe gave employees a right to strike, that privilege could be limited to maintain essential services.
“Section 86 of the Constitution contain a limitation clause, which can also restrict the right to strike,” he said.
“In the case of private sector employees, in terms of Section 104 (1) of the Labour Act, a lawful strike is only permissible to resolve disputes of interest and not disputes of right. Section 3 of the Labour Act provides that the Labour Act does not apply to members of the public service thereby meaning that all restrictions on the right to strike in the Labour Act do not apply to public service employees.”
Some doctors and nurses yesterday threatened to forge ahead with their plan to embark on an illegal strike.
Said Mr Mucheche: “For private sector employees, Section 104 (1) of the Labour Act outlaw a strike in a dispute of right such as this one on nonpayment of salaries. This is not the case with public service employees who directly draw their right to strike from section 65 (3) of the Constitution which makes no distinction between a dispute of right and a dispute of interest when it comes to the right to resort to a collective job action. Under the common law, an employer can lawfully withhold paying employees’ salaries.
“There is a potential grave risk that employees who embark on a strike may lose remuneration for the duration of their strike. A strike is a double edged sword that will result in the employer having a legal right not to pay such striking employee for the period of the strike. It is ironic to strike for non-payment of a salary and then give the employer a legal right not to pay a salary for the period you are on strike.”
Another labour expert, Mr Rodgers Matsikidze said: “Our Constitutions gives one, except the security sector, to strike but because our labour laws are yet to be harmonised, the old provisions of the Labour Act are still applicable. The right to strike is therefore subject to restrictions.
“Normally, the employers use strike as a bargaining weapon because the more effective the strike, the more gains come but they should also note the ‘No work No pay principle’. The employer is not entitled to pay a person who is on strike whether or not the strike is illegal.”
He went on: “The right to strike is part of our law but the dispute of right is supposed to be solved through arbitration or the courts.
It is always advisable for social partners to have meetings before the pay day and show each other the finances or bank balances rather than ambushing the workers on the eve of the pay date. This erodes the trust.”
Dr Mangudya was not available for a comment yesterday.