FOREIGN currency-denominated allowances paid out to state security forces and the rest of the civil service last month have been eroded by the cost of school fees, council rates and utility bills, further impoverishing government workers, analysts have said.
The over 300 000 government employees were each paid US$100 in allowances, plus monthly salaries in local currency. Most workers in the country earn far below US$100.
The payment in allowances in hard currency followed governmentâ€™s decision in January to introduce a multi-currencies system as part of the countryâ€™s payment system to deal with hyperinflation and last Septemberâ€™s partial dollarisation of the economy.
Partial dollarisation saw manufacturers and retailers shunning trading in local currency, prompting private companies to pay wages and allowances in foreign currency, a move the government adopted last month.
Developments in the past three weeks have, however, rendered the allowances earned by government employees inadequate.
The civil servantsâ€™ joy of earning â€œreal moneyâ€ was short-lived following the gazetting of new public school fees structures and the announcement last week of exorbitant council rates, a move labour analysts said would affect most workers in the country as the new charges were more than the US$100 most of them earn per month.
Public and private sector workers in the capital, the analysts observed, would be affected the most by the new school fees and council rates.
Harare City Council last Friday announced a whopping US$185 million budget to be financed by residents and ratepayers.
Residents in upmarket areas would be expected to pay monthly charges of US$97, low-density areas US$57 while those in the high-density areas will pay US$24.
Refuse collection charges for the high-density areas were set at US$10 while those in the low-density areas will pay US$12.
Consultation fees at council clinics and hospitals were set at US$20 for adults and US$10 for children.
Burial fees would vary from US$150 to US$250 depending on the location of the burial site.
Apart from council rates, government pegged primary school fees in the high-density suburbs at US$20 a term and US$150 in the low-density suburbs.
Pupils in secondary schools in high-density areas will pay US$100 with those in the low-density areas paying US$200.
Examination fees for an â€˜Oâ€™ Level subject are US$15, while students sitting for â€˜Aâ€™ Level examinations will be asked to pay US$30 a subject.
Besides schools fees and council charges, the workers have to pay a minimum US$10 for electricity and a further US$10 for potable water.
With these charges, labour analysts said, civil servants and many workers in Zimbabwe would battle to make ends meet.
Labour lawyer Rogers Matsikidze said the new school fees structure and council charges have rendered inadequate the allowances public servants got last month, hence the need for government to act swiftly and come up with a new salary scale.
He said it was apparent that with US$100, a civil servant could not pay bills as well as cover the fees for their children at school and universities.
â€œIt is unfortunate that it is the same government that a few weeks ago paid its workers an allowance of US$$100 that is today asking them to pay the same amount for school fees,â€ Matsikidze observed.
He said government needed to review downwards utility bills as they were well above the allowances it paid its employees.
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe programmes and information officer Oswald Madziva said although his organisation welcomed the move to pay public servants allowances in hard currency, the amounts were not enough to cover basic needs of the workers.
Madziva said: â€œWe regard the allowance as a painkiller as we give the newly formed government of national unity ample time to address the issue of salaries for public servants.â€
He said the allowance should not be mistaken for a salary.
â€œThe allowance is not enough and nobody can argue otherwise as it cannot address our needs and pay fees for our children,â€ added Madziva.
Teachers last year went on strike citing poor salaries and working conditions and only went back to work early last month after a pledge by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai that they would be paid in foreign currency.
Minister of Education David Coltart also pleaded with the teachers to return to work.
Madziva said their demand for a US$2 300 salary still stands although they were open to negotiations to bring back sanity to the countryâ€™s education sector, which used to be the pride of Africa.
â€œOur demand still stands and whether or not government is able to pay is another issue. Our calculations show that what we are demanding is justifiable,â€ he said.
The countryâ€™s largest labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), this week said workers should be paid a minimum monthly salary of US$454. According to the labour body, the figure is based on the basket of an average family of six.
The ZCTU said there is some resistance from private sector employers who are saying their workers should get the same US$100 allowance the government is giving public employees.
ZCTU official Last Tarabuka said the February allowance for public servants was not enough for the upkeep of the workers and their families.
â€œOur position is clear â€“â€“ the US$100 allowance paid to civil servants falls far short of the poverty datum line which at the moment is at US$454,â€ Tarabuka said.
Rosaria Nyamadzawo, a primary school teacher in Harare, said despite being paid an allowance in hard currency, the money was eroded by costs, among them rentals and utility bills.
â€œMy allowance will not be enough to cover all these costs and I wish the new government of national unity can intervene and pay us a decent salary and revisit the fees structure,â€ Nyamadzawo lamented.Â Â
BY LUCIA MAKAMURE