Zimbabwe suspends state workers' strike

Zimbabwe union leaders on Tuesday suspended a strike that shuttered the nation’s schools as civil servants demanded a doubling of basic wages, on the eve of talks with the government, a spokesperson said.

“We have suspended the strike for tomorrow only, pending the outcome of the meeting with the government representatives,” Tendai Chikowore, spokesperson for the umbrella union for state workers, said.

“After the meeting, we will report on the outcome and issue a statement. If the outcome is favourable, we will call off the strike. If it is not favourable, the strike will resume on Thursday.”

An Agence France-Presse correspondent visiting government schools around Harare found only a few staffers and some pupils milling around, as more teachers heeded the five-day strike call.

“We were just hoping there might be lessons but the teachers did not come to class today,” one boy returning home from high school said.

Ignored strike request
Unions called for a five-day stay-away this week, after a similar call for a one-day strike was largely ignored last Thursday.

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 strike got off to a slow start but on the second day on Tuesday, public schools in the capital were deserted with a few staffers in offices and senior pupils milling around.

But at government departments, work went on as usual with people queuing up and being served.

Civil servants, particularly teachers, nurses and doctors, have been striking on and off for better salaries since 2007.

Sabotage
The situation reached its height 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.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti says about one-third of the 230 000 workers on the government payroll don’t actually exist, meaning corrupt employees are siphoning off salaries.

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

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