In Zambia, striking public school teachers and civil servants are said to have returned to work this week after signing a 15 percent salary increment agreement with the government.
But nurses and other public service workers are continuing what the government called their illegal strike even though their leaders have called on them to return to work.
Now, Minister of Information Ronnie Shikapwasha has accused opposition leader Hakainde Hichilema of inciting the health workers to continue their strike.
He said it was treasonable for Hichilema to encourage the strike while patients were dying in Zambian hospitals.
But Hichilema told VOA the Zambian government is responsible for the continuation of the strike by failing to engage in meaningful negotiations with the workers.
“I am not inciting striking workers. What I have been asking the Zambian government is to take responsibility by engaging workers in a meaningful and speedy negotiation,” he said.
Hichilema said the striking workers’ demands are in line with Zambian politicians who he said gave themselves salary and allowance increments.
“Secondly, it is the government that is causing this strike because when they took over office a few months ago they started by awarding themselves higher salary and allowance increment in the face of a recession,” Hichilema said.
He said politics is not about being paid well but about serving the people.
Hichilema ridiculed the government’s claim that it had already given the workers a 15 percent salary increment.
“Look, engaging in a labor dispute, the successful engagement means arriving at a solution that will allow the strike to come to an end. And that is their obligation; it’s not Hakainde’s obligation,” Hichilema said.
He described as nonsensical Minister of Information Shikapwasha’s claim that it was treasonable for Hichilema and other opposition leaders to incite the workers to strike.
“I have never had any discussion in any meeting with union leaders. I have just been asking the government to speedily resolve the strike because people are dying in hospitals, pregnant women are delivering babies at bus stops and on the mini buses,” Hichilema said.
Hichilema said anybody who takes responsibility as a leader must understand that such a problem takes priority.
He accused President Rupiah Banda of always on holiday and not attending to the striking workers’ demands.
But Zambian Information Minister Ronnie Shikapwasha said the government has proof that Hichilema and other opposition leaders have been inciting the workers to strike.
“Specifically he himself spoke at a meeting in Livingston that people must be angry with the government…and that the government must be able to find ways and means, but without a solution, the strike must go on,” he said.
Shikapwasha reiterated claims attributed to him in the Zambian media that it was treasonable for people to call for a change in government.
“When we incite people to continue to strike when others are dying in the hospital, that is very serious because when the nurses and the doctors are listening to politicians and they are going about to tell them to strike, that is very serious,” Shikapwasha said.
He denied Hichilema’s claim that government officials awarded themselves salary and allowance increment in the face of a recession.
Shikapwasha said the issue of pay rise for all constitutional office holders, including members of parliament, began in the administration of the late President Levy Mwanawasa.