Zimbabwean civil servants could be the next group of workers to walk off the job in the increasing social turmoil generated by acute economic distress, following the deadlock Friday of talks between Harare officials and the Public Service Association.

Public workers were offered a monthly Z$200,000, some US$40 at the parallel market exchange rate, far beneath their demand of Z$566,000 (US$113), the poverty line for the country as determined each month by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe.

The country's 180,000 civil servants staged crippling strikes in 1998. A walkout in the current climate would deal a heavy blow to a government which since late 2006 has faced one labor brushfire after another. Resident doctors in state hospitals went on strike in December, and many school teachers stopped working two weeks ago.

Reflecting government fears of a strike by state workers, the state-controlled Sunday Mail accused civil servant representatives of serving the interests of the West.

Further negotiations are set for Wednesday, at which time civil service representatives say they will ?beg? the government for concessions. PSA President Alexander Khova told reporter Patience Rusere that if the talks fail, state workers could strike.

An ongoing strike by primary and secondary school teachers was fueled Monday with news that the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, previously considered aligned with the government, announced its own strike until Harare met its demands.

The decision resulted from the stalemate Friday in the same meeting in which the PSA took part within the so-called Apex Council of public employees. Sources said Harare offered ZIMTA teachers a monthly base salary of Z$180,000, something more than a 100% increase from the present Z$84,000 salary, but the offer was rejected.

ZIMTA issued a statement Monday saying it regretted that the state not only came up short but refused to make its offer retroactive to January 1. ZIMTA President Tendai Chikowore confirmed that his association has joined the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe whose members have been on strike for two weeks.

PTUZ General Secretary Raymond Majongwe told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that his union welcomes ZIMTA?s decision to officially join the strike, as many of ZIMTA's members were already participating in the action.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...