By Nelson Banya
Zimbabwe’s public workers on Tuesday said they would go on strike if the government failed to increase their wages to at least $475 per month for the lowest paid employee, as resurgent inflation returned.
Official figures published on Monday showed annual inflation almost doubled to 175.66% in June, piling pressure on a population struggling with shortages and stirring memories of the economic chaos of a decade ago.
Hope that the economy would quickly rebound under President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who replaced the long-ruling Robert Mugabe after a November 2017 coup, has turned to frustration as the country struggles with shortages of dollars, fuel and medicines.
Leaders of government workers’ unions marched on the ministries of finance and labour in Harare on Tuesday to present their wage demands.
“Civil servants are not asking for a salary increment, but rather restoration of the value of their earnings, which fell from at least US$475 to a mere US$47 currently for the lowest paid civil servant,” read part of the workers’ petition.
The government abruptly banned the use of foreign currencies on June 24 and decreed that domestic transactions would now be in the local RTGS currency, which was renamed Zimbabwe dollar.
The local unit has depreciated by 28% since then and was at 8.8 against the greenback on the official interbank market on Tuesday, and around 10 to the U.S. dollar on the black market.
The lowest-paid government worker earns 430 Zimbabwe dollars a month, enough to buy a vehicle tyre. The government hiked the price of fuel at the weekend and is looking to raise the tariff for electricity in the coming weeks.
Cecilia Alexander, chairperson of the Apex Council, a grouping of government workers’ unions, said the government’s austerity plans had left workers mired in poverty.
“As workers, we refuse to be sacrificed. We have come today as the leadership, if our petition is not received favourably, we will bring the entire civil service out to protest,” Alexander said, addressing a group of workers outside the building housing the Ministry of Finance.
The last strike called by another union over a sharp rise in fuel prices in January turned deadly after an army crackdown on protesters left more than a dozen people dead.
Workers were set to meet government for wage talks later on Tuesday.
Deputy Minister of Labour, Lovemore Matuke, who received the unions’ petition, promised to take it up with government.
“We have heard you, we have received your petition. We’ve heard that your incomes have been eroded. It’s a serious issue, which has to be discussed. I know negotiations are in progress and I will hand the petition to the relevant authorities,” Matuke said.
The unions have grown frustrated by the pace of wage talks and accuse the government of not showing urgency.
Last week, public sector workers rejected the government’s offer of 180 million Zimbabwe dollars ($20.41 million) in additional pay for the next six months, saying it was too little. Reuters