/ 16 September 2007

Zim unions vow to press on with strike

Zimbabwe’s main labour union will go ahead with a two-day strike next week despite government signals the wage freeze that triggered the protest would be relaxed, a top labour official said on Sunday.

President Robert Mugabe’s government ordered a price freeze in June as part of ongoing efforts to stem rampant inflation, which is running above 7 600%. Earlier this month officials extended the freeze to wages, rentals and school fees.

The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for industrial action in protest against the blanket freeze, but state media reports on Sunday indicated the government was planning to amend the regulation to allow employers to award salary increases.

Labour Minister Nicholas Goche told the state-run Sunday Mail newspaper the government would relax the wage freeze by Tuesday.

”We are working on amendments as far as incomes are concerned,” Goche said, adding that the freeze ordered on other goods and services would remain.

However, ZCTU Secretary General Wellington Chibebe told Reuters the labour federation would not call off the planned job boycott until Mugabe’s government made the changes.

”We have been cheated before. Initially they said there would be no wage freeze, but then went on to announce it,” Chibebe said.

”They are trying to pacify us to try and dilute the planned action on the 19th and 20th [of September] but we will believe them only after seeing the amendments. So the position remains and the strike goes ahead,” Chibebe added.

Workers have borne the brunt of Zimbabwe’s severe economic crisis, which is marked by the highest inflation in the world and persistent shortages of foreign currency, fuel and food.

Mugabe’s government in April stifled a national strike called by the ZCTU by deploying riot police in the country’s main urban centres.

Analysts say strikes over labour and social issues in recent years have largely failed due to government intimidation and workers’ fears of losing their jobs in a country that has an 80% unemployment rate.

Mugabe accuses the ZCTU of fronting for the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which he says is being used by his Western foes to oust him from power.

‘Absolutely ruthless’

Meanwhile, Mugabe is consolidating his hold on power as he ruthlessly tackles his arch-critics ahead of 2008 polls in which he is a candidate, analysts say.

His latest victim is former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, one of his strongest critics, who resigned this week from his post in the aftermath of an alleged adultery scandal.

The government mouthpiece Herald newspaper had published in July some compromising pictures which it said depicted the then-cleric having sex with another man’s wife.

Ncube (60), who has been head of the Bulawayo Diocese since 1998, said his resignation was intended to save the church from further attacks and enable him to challenge the adultery charge in court in his private capacity.

”What they did to Ncube was to send a warning to all critics,” said Bill Saidi, a political commentator and journalist. ”The whole plan was absolutely ruthless.” — Reuters, Sapa-AFP