Mass protests loom in Zim as workers demand US dollars
The government is scrambling to avoid crippling mass action as workers reject devalued salaries and the controversial bond note
Harare — Zimbabwe is this week likely to witness a wave of mass protests by government workers if President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration does not strike a deal with labour unions which are demanding a pay rise.
Among the workers’ demands is to be paid at least a portion of their salaries in US dollars as the country’s controversial surrogate currency, the bond note, continues to be rejected by citizens.
Doctors at public health institutions have been on a strike that has lasted over a month and teachers as well as other government workers have threatened to follow suit as Zimbabwe’s economy continues to languish in the doldrums.
The economic crisis has hit workers the most as their salaries have been devalued threefold due to currency distortions, and citizens have grown impatient with government, with several labour unions calling for mass protests.
On Monday, government is set to meet representatives of all its 300,000 workforce in a bid to avert a crippling mass action.
In a statement on Friday, acting public service, labour and social welfare minister July Moyo said he would meet the labour unions to urge them not to go on industrial action.
“This meeting is part of the commitment of government to engage all its employees in pursuit of developing common positions in relation to the improvement of employee salaries and generally resolve any matters that impact their conditions of service.”
The Movement for Democratic Change alliance led by popular opposition leader Nelson Chamisa said a mass strike was likely.
“There is a looming nationwide strike across the public sector with the government refusing to pay its workers in US dollars, yet they are collecting various taxes in hard currency. They even afford to allocate forex to Delta Beverages (the country’s largest alcoholic beverage manufacturing company), an economy cannot be run through attending only those who cry the loudest.”
Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association secretary-general Dr Mthabisi Bhebhe told Business Day on Sunday that the doctors’ strike was still on, refuting a government statement at the weekend that doctors would return to work.
“Our industrial action is still ongoing. But we are mindful that there was an agreement made by the Apex Council giving us 48 hours to return to work. We are still consulting with our members on that position but as it stands, the industrial action is still in effect,” said Bhebhe.
Despite the meeting called by the government tomorrow, Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association Richard Gundane at the weekend said its members would not report for duty when schools open on Tuesday.
“Our members are unable to report for duty with effect from the 8th of January 2019 due to incapacitation,” Gundane said.
The largest workers’ body in the country, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, last week also called for a general strike.
Zimbabwe’s crippled economy plunged deeper into the quagmire after last July elections which President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly won.
At the centre of the economic problems is a currency crisis, as government insists that the bond note is 1:1 with the US dollar, yet it trades at 300% lower value on the flourishing parallel markets.
Prices of goods and services continue to increase, with inflation reaching its worst levels since the economic collapse of 2008.