News / Africa

Zimbabwe Public Servants Strike Fails

Delia Robertson

Zimbabwe's public service unions' attempted one-day strike appeared to fizzle Thursday, with most workers reporting for duty.  However, union leaders are still hailing the action as a success, and still pressing their demand for increased wages.

Tendai Chikowore, president of the Apex Council, which represents all of Zimbabwe's public sector unions, told reporters in Harare most public servants had heeded the call to strike.

“There has been an overwhelming response," said Chikowore. "Of course it is not 100 percent because other people have reported for duty here and there, but that is a normal situation where you find people want to get courage from those who are brave enough to quickly respond and then gradually you find also other people leaving their workstations.”

But independent reports from Harare say most government departments were functioning normally and that teaching was under way in classes at government schools.

Public servants are demanding increases for all workers - a minimum monthly wage of $538, up from $200 for entry-level employees. They also want medical insurance, improved pensions and a special allowance for workers in rural areas.  

A teacher in Harare who wished to remain anonymous told VOA teachers deserve better and that the government’s priorities in allocating funds are misplaced.

“Teaching basically is the mother of all professions, right? Since it is the mother of all professions, they should be the first priority in our government, they should be prioritized," said the teacher. "They have got other expenditures that they can just cut off, their cars, they are buying for [the] ministers right, they could cut off that money, put it to the teachers.”

Public servants have been using industrial action for the past decade to support demands for better wages and employment conditions. In 2008 there was a major crisis when staff shortages forced the closure of several state hospitals, and schools were open for just 50 days of teaching for the entire year.

In 2009 the formation of a so-called inclusive government between President Robert Mugabe and now- Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai led to the economy stabilizing. But there have been lengthy delays in implementing provisions of the agreement that led to the government's formation, and that has discouraged western governments from lifting targeted sanctions, and scared off international investors.  

Finance Minister Tendai Biti says salaries already consume more that 60 percent of Zimbabwe’s annual budget, to the detriment of health, education and infrastructure development.

Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga declined to answer questions from VOA. Unions say they will consult with their members before deciding on what future action to take.

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