By Farayi Machamire
President Robert Mugabe’s cash-strapped government is set to endure yet another torrid time with its workers, with civil servants set to begin their long mooted strike tomorrow over their outstanding 2016 bonuses.
This comes as the stone-broke government has been pressured to agree to a raft of demands by striking public health officials, including doctors and nurses, whose industrial action has crippled services at State hospitals over the past three weeks.
The doctors and nurses ended their strike on Friday after reaching a deal with the government, including the withdrawal of the State’s earlier threats to sack all striking workers.
But just as the government thought it had weathered the storm, the umbrella union for civil servants, the Apex Council, held an emergency meeting in the capital on Friday where it resolved to go on strike starting tomorrow.
The union, which represents over 300 000 workers, said government workers would strike in all of Zimbabwe’s 10 provinces to push for the immediate payment of their 2016 bonuses.
“The Apex Council hereby advises all its members to sit-in or withdraw their labour on the 6th of March 2017 in anticipation of the outcome of the bonus meeting with government on the same day, whose feedback shall determine the next course of action,” Apex Council chairperson, Cecilia Alexander, said.
“The bonus or stands offer by the minister of Labour is new to us because we have a credible process that we have invested our energies in with the (Local Government) minister (Saviour) Kasukuwere.”
“In the same vein, the Apex Council wishes to advise the minister of Labour to always consult with unions first before rushing to the media.
“As Apex Council, we take great exception to the abuse of union leaders by the State media which we believe to be taking a cue from the utterances by the minister of Labour. Let it be noted that an injury to one is an injury to all. These unwarranted cowardly attacks must stop,” Alexander warned.
Despite the government’s depleted coffers, Mugabe said last year that government workers deserved to get their 13th cheque because it was a contractual obligation.
In his last budget statement last December, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa painted a gloomy outlook for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy, sharply revising downwards the country’s 2016 growth prospects from the previously hoped for 2,7 percent to a mere 0,6 percent — and thereby pointing to more troubles ahead for long-suffering citizens.
The lawyer-turned treasury chief, who has often won industry’s kudos for his pragmatism despite his principals’ destructive policies, was also brave enough to admit openly that the country’s economy was facing “a number of headwinds” that were retarding growth.
As a result, the government has been struggling to meet its key obligations, including paying civil servants on time, and leading to several stand-offs with its workers.
On July 6 last year, thousands of civil servants stayed away from work and heeded a call by activist cleric, Evan Mawarire, to stage a crippling general strike which was described as one of the biggest stay-aways ever held in the country.
For the past three weeks, doctors have been striking over poor conditions of service and they were later joined by midwives and nurses, forcing the government to deploy army medics to try and mitigate the mayhem at major public hospitals, after the State failed with its ill-advised threats to force the doctors to return to work.
Analysts say the gloomy economic outlook will pile more pressure on Mugabe and his Zanu PF government who are already facing myriad problems as things stand. Daily News