A strike by Zimbabwean civil servants to demand a doubling of basic wages got off to a slow start on Monday with schoolchildren being turned away, while business went on as usual at some government offices.
“I phoned my daughter’s school just to check after dropping her off early in the morning and I was told to come back and pick her up,” one mother said as she took her daughter home from a primary school.
“There were no teachers around and the children were left in the custody of prefects.”
In the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, schoolchildren were returning home mid-morning, but business went on normally at government agencies like the passport office.
Unions called for a five-day stayaway this week, after a similar call for a one-day strike was largely ignored last week.
Tendai Chikowore — spokesperson for the state employees’ umbrella union, the Apex council — said the union would comment later on the response to the strike.
Chikowore said the workers want across-the-board pay rises, including a raise from $200 to $538 a month for the lowest-paid government workers, medical insurance and an allowance for workers based in rural areas.
The government has not responded to the strike or the workers’ demands.
Civil servants, particularly teachers, nurses and doctors, have been striking on and off for better salaries since 2007.
The situation came to a head in 2008, when staff shortages forced state hospitals to close some units and teacher strikes left only 50 days of classes in the whole year.
Zimbabwe’s economy has begun recovering after a decade-long downturn, following a power-sharing agreement by long-time rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the wake of failed 2008 polls.
But ghost workers are a problem throughout the civil service: about a third of government’s 230000 employees are not thought to actually exist, according to Finance Minister Tendai Biti.
So much of the current salary payments are being claimed fraudulently by people using fictional aliases.
Biti, a Tsvangirai ally, has insisted the cash-strapped government cannot afford to pay higher salaries.
Mugabe has accused the minister of deliberately sabotaging the government by refusing the increases. — AFP