Dar es Salaam. Nicholas Mgaya is not a new name in Tanzania’s trade union stakes, as many would recall former President Jakaya Kikwete’s popular quote: ‘Akili za Mgaya changanya na zako.’ Mr Mgaya articulated this in an exclusive interview with The Citizen.
Mr Mgaya – who once worked as secretary general of the Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (Tucta) – said that the Kikwete saying, which roughly implies that ‘Don’t regard Mgaya’s assertion as gospel truth,’ was the culmination of years of negotiations between the government and trade unions.
It was during the countdown to the 2010 General Election when President Kikwete found himself on the wrong side of voters when he reacted to workers’ threat to strike if the government failed to meet their demands on wage increases and better working conditions.
In response to the threats, Mr Kikwete issued a strongly-worded reaction, saying if workers were planning to use their vote as a bargaining chip in their demands, he would be ready to lose their vote as he would be elected by other people.
The statement earned Mr Kikwete and his political party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), a backlash from workers, activists and opposition politicians, some of whom appealing to workers for their votes “which had been rejected by Mr Kikwete.”
Mr Mgaya was at one point quoted as saying: “You can’t force a person who has rejected our votes to accept now… Rather, we have to give our votes to the one who needs them. Therefore, Tucta will decide which presidential candidate to support”.
But, when Mr Kikwete addressed Dar es Salaam elders later on, he urged Tucta to call off its planned strike, promising workers that their paychecks would increase in the 2010/11 financial year.
It was during that address when Mr Kikwete uttered his famous Swahili quote: ‘Akili za Mgaya changanya na zako.’
And, now, eleven years later, Mr Mgaya – who has been quiet for some time – recalls the life he lived during the Kikwete reign.
Speaking at his Tabata home, Mr Mgaya said Tucta’s General Assembly convened in Arusha to evaluate its progress two-and-half-years after the elections resolved that a letter should be written to the government over three issues.
They include reducing Pay As You Earn (Paye) tax from 15 percent to single digit; salary increases and merging the social security funds from five to two, one each for public and private workers.
However, the 69-year-old Mgaya said 90 days elapsed without receiving a response from the government, therefore meetings of the executive committee and the general council declared an intention to strike according to the Labour Act, Number 6 of 2004.
“The law provides procedures including serving the government with a notice expressing the intention to strike over the above three issues,” he said.
He added: “That is where our controversy started.
“We also resolved that, during the 2010 May Day celebrations, either the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister or the Labour Minister would be invited to grace the event.”
During the May Day celebrations held at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, it was the Tucta secretary general who read the workers’ speech – which was responded to by the congress’ chairman.
However, Mr Mgaya said, the Labour Minister of the day, Prof Juma Kapuya’s plan to organize another event at the Mnazi Mmoja Grounds flopped after the late Alfred Tandau rejected the invitation to grace the event.
“As we were approaching the general election, former President Kikwete was quoted as saying he was ready to lose workers’ votes if the same was used to pressurize for the pay rise,” he said.
According to him, he remembered the matter when invited at the Ubungo Plaza to attend a worker’s event, saying workers would not force someone to take the food he/she wasn’t ready to consume.
“However, ex-President Kikwete was quoted from his work tour in the Lake regions as saying he had been misquoted as rejecting workers’ ballots. He repeated the statement during his meeting with Dar es Salaam elders some days later,” he said.
He said that President Kikwete convened the meeting after receiving reports from the Labour Minister Mr Kapuya, without listening on their side.
According to him, the President had been given false information that they arrived at the ministry of Finance at 2:30pm instead of 10:00am when they were invited to negotiate on reduction of Paye deducted from workers’ salaries.
“Our concern was the authorities’ failure to extend an invitation for salary negotiations in 2009. The law demands that salary increment negotiations have to be concluded by every December in order for the same to be reflected in the next budget,” he said.
He said failure to extend the invitation indicated that no salary increment would be made or employers will do it at their own discrete.
“It seems ex-President Kikwete used his instruments to understand the truth on the matter. Therefore, we signed agreements to establish the Social Security Regulatory Authority (SSRA).
“Later on two social security funds (for the public and private workers) were formed from the previous five,” he said.
Mr Mgaya said it was meaningless for the country with a small number of workers to have many social security funds, something that adversely added to operating costs.
He said exerted pressure paid off because Paye was also reduced to nine percent and SSRA was formed.
However, after the 2010 General Election, Mr Kapuya dropped from the ministerial roles and he was replaced by Ms Gaudensia Kabaka.
“We worked well with Ms Kabaka. But, she annoyed trade union leaders when she published the Government Notice (GN) on salary increment contrary to the agreement made by the government, workers and employers,” said Mr Mgaya.
Unfortunately, a local radio station reached me for comments where I told them to check with the minister to establish what she had received from one of the institutions dealing with industries that was behind the changes.
Ms Kabaka was displeased with the interview and therefore asked me to cancel the statement, something I refused to do, because that was the truth.
But, later on in 2011, our relation with President Kikwete’s government improved and restored the quarterly meetings held at the Magogoni State House to discuss the welfare of the Tanzania workers.
“I would one day wish to meet former President Kikwete and hold private talks with him. I believe it will be an interesting day for me and I will laugh a lot,” concluded Mr Mgaya.