Civil servants stand to take home a salary based on the value of basic commodities and services if recommendations by a newly-formed task force will be adopted.
The task force, which reportedly met last week, comprises government, Civil Servants Trade Union (CSTU) and other stakeholder representatives.
During the meeting held at Sunbird Livingstonia Beach in the central Malawi district of Salima on Friday, the Government Negotiating Team (GNT) is said to have agreed with the list of food and non-food items basket for an average civil servant and their cost as presented by CSTU.
The group is expected to recommend a proper salary increase for the civil servants, currently grumbling against a seven percent pay hike across the board announced by government in July 2011.
According to the list in the monthly food basket for an average family of five, the basic salary would be at least K61 000 ($365) covering transport, school fees for children and medical cover. Some civil servants receive as little as K12 000 ($72) per month, according to MCTU.
In its December 2011 basket of basic needs, the Centre for Social Concern (CfSC) puts the cost for an average family of six at about K70 000 ($419) for Lilongwe, K61 000 for Zomba, K65 000 ($389) for Blantyre and K61 500 ($368) for Mzuzu.
CSTU president Eliah Kamphinda Banda, in a written response to a questionnaire, on Tuesday said the two sides agreed not to base the salary adjustment on percentages, but that it should be a reflection of the cost of basic needs for an average family of a civil servant.
Said the union leader: “What we did was to come up with a basket of needs for food and non-food items and brought forward to government to say Ã¢â‚¬Ëœthis is how the market isÃ¢â‚¬â„¢.
“We asked the government side to delete items that were irrelevant or exaggerated. In turn, we were told all items were OK and not exaggerated. Last Friday, when we met, we asked the same and were given the same response. And government representatives further ascertained that if anything, the items were under-valued.”
Kamphinda Banda further said it would be unfair to suggest that the unionÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s demand for a salary hike is unjust considering that the country is going through the worst financial crisis in recent times.
“We know how careless government has been in its spending. We are also mindful that there is a civil servant somewhere who receives K12 000 [per month] and literally depends on that salary. Malawians also know that the current crisis has hit civil servants more,” he said.
Kamphinda Banda disclosed that the task force has in the next three months to come up with recommendations for the two negotiating sides to discuss.
Kamphinda Banda said the unions that include the Teachers Union of Malawi and the Nurses Union are happy with progress made so far in the negotiations and that government has been advised to consult widely before making critical decisions involving the unions.
And according to the CfSC assessment, the month of December saw unrelenting rapid price increase for food commodities in the cities of Mzuzu, Lilongwe, Zomba and Blantyre.
“The current trend in Malawi of sustained rapid food price inflation poses an enormous challenge in enabling poor people to access food because prices for staple foods are rising well beyond the reach of most Malawians, more especially the poor,” says CfSC social conditions research programme officer Alex Nkosi.
In September last year, government approved a seven percent salary increase for civil servants which put Chief Secretary to the President and Cabinet, who is head of civil service at K893 876 ($5 352) per month and the lowest paid on Grade R1 at K12 338 ($73).
CSTU immediately described the adjustment as inadequate because it did not match with the cost of living and that government made the changes without consulting the union.
Minister of Finance and Development Planning Ken Lipenga said he was in a meeting when contacted on Tuesday.
But Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) executive director Dalitso Kubalasa said although it would be a good idea to match the salaries with the cost of living, the policy cannot be sustained at the moment.
He said if government accepts to hike civil servants salaries to K60 000, it would lead to retrenchments because the economy is not generating enough resources to support a huge wage bill.
Kubalasa said when considering the right minimum salary for a civil servant, the task force would be looking at issues of spreading the increase over a certain period of time and start with something which will be closer to the cost of living on the ground.