Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Angry teachers in fresh strike threat

By Tendai Kamhungira

A day after President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke government reached a compromise with angry civil servants over their outstanding 2016 bonuses, the State is facing a fresh headache after rural teachers threatened to strike over the decision to pay soldiers their 13th cheque ahead of other government workers.

Civil servants and teachers march during a protest for better wages and working conditions in Harare  REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo (ZIMBABWE )

In the bonus agreement reached on Monday, which ended months of bickering between the two parties, Treasury will somehow have to find a staggering $180 million to pay government workers their 13th cheques.

The bonus payments will be staggered, with members of the defence forces and those in the health sector receiving their dues first — at the end of April — while the police and prisons officials will be given theirs in May.

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Long-suffering teachers will only be paid their bonuses in June, while the rest of the civil service will get theirs in August, a decision which has not gone down well with Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), which is threatening to go on strike to stop the continuing preferential treatment of the military.

“Unions have collectively refused this structure of payment which prefers to pay security forces first, yet they are also the ones being paid salaries first and are not part of negotiations,” Artuz said yesterday.

It said it had hoped, in the interest of fairness, that the bonus payment dates for the security sector would this time have been pushed to August, while the rest of the civil service would get their bonuses in March and not April.

With the government having unsuccessfully attempted to pay civil servants their outstanding bonuses using residential stands, Artuz dismissed the idea as a non-starter.

“Residential stands must remain as part of non-monetary incentives given that the employer has consistently failed to pay salaries above the poverty datum line, which is currently at $574,” it said.

This comes as the government was last Friday pressured to agree to a raft of demands by public health officials, including doctors and nurses, to end a three-week crippling strike which had been called to protest poor working conditions.

The government has been struggling to meet its key obligations, including paying civil servants on time, 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.

Last year, Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa almost lost his job after announcing that the government was going to forego bonus disbursements until this year, a pronouncement that was sharply repudiated by Mugabe a week later.

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, Chinamasa painted a gloomy outlook for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy, 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. Daily News