Peter Mutasa

HARARE – A Zimbabwean trade union said Tuesday the country’s banks could be headed for a showdown with their 4 000 strong workforce, three weeks after they demanded an urgent pay hike meant to ride over a crippling economic crisis.

The Bank Employers Association of Zimbabwe (BEAZ) has turned down the request by trade unions, arguing that the issue had been addressed by the National Employment Council (NEC) earlier this year, according to correspondence seen by ENN.

This has raised the ire of the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union of Zimbabwe (ZIBAWU), which said on Tuesday it was consulting its membership for the next course of action.

Deputy general secretary, Shephard Ngandu, said nationwide strike actions were possible as workers were finding it “tough” to negotiate a rapidly deteriorating economic climate in Zimbabwe, where annual inflation hit 66,80 percent in March, from 59,39 percent in February with rampant basic commodity price hikes of up to 200 percent between October last year and April.

Raging inflationary pressures have eroded Zimbabweans’ buying power, precipitating high levels of food insecurity, according to ZIBAWU secretary general, Peter Mutasa.

In his letter to BEAZ, Mutasa said while bank workers had been awarded a pay hike in January, sharp price increments had wiped out all the value.

He said to secure the stability of the industry, an urgent meeting was imperative to come up with new salary scales and benefits in line with economic dynamics.

“We refer to (this) urgent issue in light of events unfolding in the economy which have severely eroded the purchasing power of workers’ salaries,” Mutasa said.

“This has resulted in workers facing financial hardships. Most families are now food insecure, unable to pay fees, pay rentals and buy clothes. In short, the economic situation has thrown banking sector workers into a serious poverty trap. The increase we got in January was completely wiped out due to inflation and other economic factors. We are in no doubt that employers are well aware of the plight of workers and will treat this request as urgent. We hope this meeting will be convened immediately to ensure continued stability and sound industrial relations. We call for a collective bargaining session to negotiate new rates of remuneration and benefits for employees in the sector,” he added.

However, BEAZ said it was not prepared to discuss fresh wage hikes.

“Whilst we acknowledge the changes in the economy, it is our considered view that the NEC fully discharged its obligation to review salaries for the year as guided by the framework SI 150 of 2013,” said BEAZ.

But ZIBAWU said trade union leaders were determined to push for wage hikes.

“They are kind of refusing to negotiate,” said Ngandu.

“So, we are consulting our structures on the way forward but such response could lead to countrywide actions as banking workers are finding the going tough,” he warned.

Banks are unlikely to give in to workers’ fresh demands for wage hikes in the face of the deteriorating economic crisis that has been compounded by fuel shortages and currency volatilities.

A report in 2017 indicated that at least 2 000 workers had lost their jobs in the banking sector over five years due to the economic turmoil.