March 2, 2007

Government and unions begin start key wage talks, ZCTU calls for strike in April

Zimbabwe labour and business leaders started talks with the government on a wage and price freeze, but union leaders doubted a deal would emerge to rescue the country from economic collapse. President Robert Mugabe's government hopes a freeze agreement could help arrest galloping inflation, the highest in the world at almost 1,600 percent. But labour leaders have said they doubt the government is yet willing to give into demands that political reforms be included in any economic recovery package. The country's largest labour body, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), had before called for a two-day strike in April because the government had failed to halt the economic meltdown.
Labour Minister Nicholas Goche told the meeting the government was eager to negotiate and would honour any agreement coming out of the talks, including an as-yet unimplemented pact hammered out in 2001 - a key union demand. "This will ... provide a conducive environment for the discussion and conclusion of a social contract," Goche said.
The 2001 agreement, which Mugabe's government did not sign, calls for reforms to address Zimbabwe's "political risk factor" following sometimes violent seizures of white-owned farms under a land redistribution drive. The agreement asked the government to shore up respect for property rights and the rule of law to help attract much needed trade and investment. ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo said he doubted Mugabe's government was now committed to reform and dialogue. "Responsibility weighs heavily on government ... We impressed on them that if we are to make progress in eliminating the political risk factor, there is need for good governance and the rule of law," Matombo said. He said the ZCTU would not call off the planned strike on April 3, saying it was up to government to meet union demands such as a minimum wage linked to the poverty line and lower income tax before that date. (Rts)

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