THE Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union (Zibawu), which represents about 5 000 workers in the banking sector, this week threatened to go on strike if their demands for higher salaries are not met. Zibawu has given employers a notice of intention to strike. Senior busine
ss reporter Shakeman Mugari (SM) spoke to Zibawu President Blessing Mujuru (Mujuru) about the impending job action.
SM: Mr Mujuru, what has prompted the decision by Zibawu to issue a notice of intention to strike by workers in the banking sector?
Mujuru: The decision to strike was reached after we realised that there was an apparent lack of seriousness from the employers. Since July 1 we have engaged the employers but have since seen that there is no seriousness on their part. We have had close to 15 meetings so far.
SM: What’s really the sticking point?
Mujuru: The employers are always talking about viability problems. They even argue that chief executives in the banks have written to the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono informing him about the problems in the sector. They are now using this to demonstrate that they are indeed in a crisis.
SM: Do they give specific reasons why they cannot meet the workers’ demands?
Mujuru: They are always referring to the cost income ratio which they are saying is between 60-70%. Basically that’s to say that the costs are too high. But we have challenged them to tell us what part of the costs constitutes salaries of senior level managers. We want them to tell us what they are doing to reduce the costs (arising from) salaries for management. They have refused to give us that. We are saying management in these banks are squandering billions in salaries, perks, car services and exorbitant fees for their children but the low level workers are starving. We know that there are some banks that are giving salaries as low as $4,4 million.
SM: What really are your demands?
Mujuru: Initially we had wanted 1 600% and a short bargaining period. But they have refused, saying they are only obliged to adjust salaries once a year. They wanted to give a single increment and then review the salaries as and when they feel like. That is what they did last year. After the 132,5% raise in July last year, the banks gave between 0-30% in December. In Ferbruary, we had agreed that they would give 65% but on the date of signing they changed their minds and offered 45%. If you consider inflation of more than 1 000% at the time you will see that there is a serious prejudice on the part of the workers.
SM: What are the workers demanding now?
Mujuru: We have compromised. We are now saying for the four months from July 1 to October 30 we want a 300% (cost of living) adjustment. We had agreed with them in principle.
SM: Then where did it go wrong, why are you planning to strike if you had agreed?
Mujuru: Yes we had agreed. The employers even suggested a ceremony on Tuesday to sign the agreement for the adjustment. But when Tuesday came they changed (their minds) and said the chief executives who were supposed to attend the signing meeting had been invited to the official opening of parliament.
SM: Can you give an indication of the lowest paid bank employee at the moment?
Mujuru: The lowest so far are non-clerical staff at a local bank who are getting $4,4 million per month.
SM: And how about bank tellers who are normally regarded as the face of a banking institution?
Mujuru: They are getting $25 million. That 300% would have moved them to $100 million. We have also said we want the industry to have a minimum wage pegged to the PDL (poverty datum line). The employers have however rejected that proposal saying the concept is still too new to them.
SM: Do you think the workers will support the job action?
Mujuru: They will because they have been taken for a ride for a long time. They are now asking where all the billions that the banks are declaring as profits are going. The message from the workers is very clear: they can’t take it anymore. They are geared for a job action.
SM: My question is whether you have enough support to make an impact?
Mujuru: The workers are prepared for that action. We have had meetings and it is clear they are in a mood for such action.
SM: Since banks are complaining about costs, they might decide to retrench if you persist with those demands. What would be your action plan?
Mujuru: Even with lower salaries they can still retrench. You need to realise that even with the lower salaries of last year some banks retrenched. There is no guarantee that they would not retrench if they pay lower salaries. In any case such decisions are taken at forums where Zibawu does not even set foot.