Zimbabwe teachers end strike in deal with govt

Zimbabwean unions have called off a teachers’ strike after agreeing to a wage deal with President Robert Mugabe’s government, which faces growing pressure from labour amid a deepening economic crisis in the Southern African nation.

Thousands of primary and high school teachers went on strike on Monday to press demands for pay increases they said they needed to help them survive a crisis that has left Zimbabwe with the world’s highest inflation rate and soaring poverty.

Critics say Mugabe has plunged the country deeper into economic crisis by ordering public institutions and private businesses to stop raising wages and prices to tame inflation, which neared an annualised 6 600% in August.

Unions have urged the government to increase salaries and take other measures to ease the burden on Zimbabwe’s working class, sometimes backing up their demands with strikes and job walkouts.

But the Zimbabwe Teachers Association (Zimta) and a splinter union agreed on Wednesday to end their strike after the government gave in to some of their demands for higher wages and allowances, officials said.

Details on the deal were not provided.

”We reached a reasonable deal on both issues, the salaries and allowances, and we are calling the strike off as a result,” said a senior official with Zimta, which represents about two-thirds of Zimbabwe’s 90 000 primary and secondary teachers.

The Zimta official, who declined to be named, said the unions and government had also agreed to review teacher salaries regularly.

”It would be very unfair for us to discuss details before we report back to our members,” said the official, who on Monday described the teachers’ pay as ”scandalously low”.

”We are expecting all our members to be back at work, latest by Monday next week,” he said.

The unions called the strike to press the government to raise teachers’ salaries to at least Z$16,7-million a month, which consumer rights groups say is the minimum wage above the poverty line.

Teachers currently earn Z$3-million ($100 at the official rate and $6 at the black market rate) a month, and local media reports said they had rejected a government offer to raise their pay to Z$7,9-million.

The strike highlighted a wider economic crisis marked by chronic shortages of food and fuel, an unemployment rate of about 80% and a steady flight of Zimbabweans who seek work in South Africa and other neighbouring countries.

Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, dismisses critics who say his government’s economic mismanagement is to blame for the crisis.

The 83-year-old leader says the economy has been sabotaged by Western powers who are trying to oust him as punishment for his seizure of thousands of white-owned farms and redistribution of the land to black Zimbabweans. – Reuters

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