THE yesteryear bonus euphoria which gripped civil servants and private sector workers ahead of Christmas has gradually dissipated into a long forgotten dream. This year is marked by a bleak season as the grinding multi-layered socio-economic hardships take their toll among ordinary citizens.
Traditionally, the month of December was famous for bonus payments to workers as appreciation for their hard work and industrious toiling throughout the year.
In turn, the rewarded workers would paint the city centres red, transforming them into a commercial spectacle as they went on a spending spree characterised by massive shopping of groceries, alcoholic beverages and household property such as electric gadgets and furniture.
However, with the prevailing tough life now permeating through the households of all ordinary citizens due to government’s bad governance that has reduced the country into a comatose economy, the old days are gone.
Most families have resorted to scrounging for basic foodstuffs as they fail to come to terms with the worsening economic environment. While government paid bonuses staggered over two months, the amounts received were not significant enough to stoke any pomp and fanfare.
On the other hand, most private companies did not afford to pay anything at all. Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary-general Japhet Moyo said the old days of merrymaking after bonuses is sadly over.
“The old days of merrymaking are gone because the resources are becoming very scarce. Not everyone has the thirteenth cheque and those lucky enough to get it, is not even adequate to push them to January. The thirteenth cheque of nothing is just nothing,” Moyo said.
He added that while things have become highly difficult, the business community has made it worse by raising prices of goods and services.
“The business community doubled the prices of goods and services to wipe out the little that they had paid out as salaries and bonuses,” Moyo said.
Takavafira Zhou, the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) president, said the reason for the current state of affairs is the lack of disposable income for workers. He said what workers are currently getting is far below the poverty datum line (PDL).
“The salaries are pathetic. Far less than the PDL and workers are living from hand to mouth and scavenging for survival,” Zhou said.
Zhou said living expenses have also shot beyond the reach of many. “Schools have increased school fees for 2024 and many parents are in a dilemma over how they will get such exorbitant amounts ranging between US$500 to US$1 600 for boarding schools between now and January,” Zhou said.
“The economy is also in shambles and our currency is easily erodible and difficult to guarantee a decent life.”
Zimbabwe Urban Council Workers’ Union (ZUCWU) national secretary-general Kudakwashe Munengiwa said local authorities’ employees in 2023 battled to get bonuses while those who did, the value was too low and so the euphoria was non-existent.
“The issue of payment of bonuses for 2023 has become a mirage. It’s meaningless to workers. The 13th cheque, as bonus is known, is meant to appreciate workers for the hard work they would have put into their various organisations throughout the ensuing 12 months. But what we see now in this country is that the payment of this 13th cheque, particularly in the public and private sectors, has become meaningless because it is consumed by accumulating debts,” Munengiwa said.
“It is also affected by the prospects of January school fees and various other expenses. So the bonus has become meaningless. So you will see that there was no pomp and fanfare. What must be done is to restore salaries to the pre-November 2017 figures where civil servants used to earn US$540 while local authority minimum paid workers got US$400. Unless and until that happens, the 13th cheque will not be the answer,” he said.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure told The NewsHawks that educators in the countryside have nothing to cheer about this Christmas.
“The Second Republic robbed civil servants of the Christmas cheer. Teachers are saddled with debts and are having sleepless nights planning for 2024 back to school. The 100% bonus of a depressed income doesn’t give civil servants and other workers enough financial legroom to afford festivities,” Masaraure said.
“The festival season is for the looters who are politically exposed. We call upon the hangman of the workers, Mthuli Ncube, to review salaries upwards, to a minimum of US$1 260 in January 2024.”