The answer to our deeply flawed public remuneration structure lies in a wages and incomes commission. It does not lie in more awards that will only entrench inequality and unfairness.
The importance of independent evaluation of wages and incomes cannot be overstated. Only yesterday President Jacob Zuma of South Africa appointed a new Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers.
This is how seriously they take public service wages.
It is quite understandable that Mr. Roy Mwaba wants the Government to lift the wage freeze regardless of the circumstances, implications and consequences. We can understand his position. As General Secretary of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions he has a duty to his members to engage in collective bargaining for the best possible conditions of service.
However we do not understand why Mr. Mwaba is not concerned by the vast anomalies in wages and salary structure in the public service that were created by the 2012 award.
In his own words Mr. Mwaba said, “We refuse to carry the burden of their (Government) lack of foresight and mismanagement.”
This is utterly irresponsible and unconscionable.
Mr. Mwaba should have been among the first people to demand for an equitable remuneration system that would have ensured fairness and equity across the board rather than press for an increase that would exacerbate and deepen the differences among public service workers.
This scenario will only create more strikes among the disgruntled sections. We have the example of the nurses who felt unfairly treated resulting in the devastating strike that crippled most hospitals and ultimately resulted in the dismissal of many officers.
To suggest that from this year’s Budget of K46.7 billion about K23.3 billion, almost 50 percent should go towards consumption/emoluments for civil servants is unconscionable.
Public funds belong to all Zambians and no single group is entitled to benefit from a claim that is faulty and ill-considered.
That is why, as a matter of principle, we opposed the 2012 salary award because it was defective. It was not comprehensive as it did not accommodate all public service employees in a fair and equitable manner. In spite of this major flaw the award consumed a colossal 52 percent of the total national Budget.
We called this a national scandal and we were very quickly vindicated by the devastating national strike mounted by nurses.
Our position is very clear. Any award to the public service must be the result of a methodical study to ensure equity, fairness and a recognition of the skill, capacities, professions and indeed intrinsic values of the individuals involved.
It is in this regard that we have repeatedly called for a wages and incomes commission that will give awards a context beyond the political pandering that obviously influenced the award in 2012.
We are aware that the issue of wages is emotional as it is emotive. There is no doubt that civil servants can be mobilized en masse to stage strikes and demonstrations outside Parliament.
These manifestations will not remove the fact that the 2012 was wrong and requires refinement.
We do not agree that workers in Local Government were left out and have been working without salaries for months. We do not agree that unskilled workers within the civil service should earn more than skilled workers.
But above all and most importantly, we totally disagree with the notion that such an ill-conceived award should form the basis of a further demand for public resources.
It must be realized that every Kwacha taken from the Budget to fund consumption is taking away from the rest of society which has no access to public funds.