January 23, 2011

Public sector workers on strike

Public sector workers begin an open-ended strike on Monday after wage talks collapsed, with Finance Minister Tendai Biti insisting there is no cash to meet the workers demands.
Unions affiliated with the Apex Council, the main public sector union, have been holding out for a 150 percent rise, more than the latest government offer of 24 percent. The Apex Council, pools the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association, and College Lecturers’Association of Zimbabwe and the Public Service Association, an umbrella body for all civil servants.

Many schools, hospitals and public offices have already been affected. The three major unions representing government workers, who now earn an average of $241 a month from US$180, met Biti and Public Service and Social Welfare Minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro last week but workers insisted they will only return back to work if their demands for a minimum wage of $502 has been met. Biti told a news conference at Harvest House HQ on Saturday that workers needed to be patient. He said government can barely afford the 24 percent offer he has put on the table.

The government needs to find US$10billion to resuscitate an economy vandalised through a decade of economic policies. If government yields to the workers, who have demanded an audience with the President saying the Prime Minister had failed them, it will have to re-prioritise its plans for the year to fund their offer. Manuel Nyawo, president of the Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe said after the meeting: “We are in agreement as Apex Council that as long as government does not accede to our demands, there is no reason for our members to continue going to work."

The government has been urging children to come to school, but many pupils have been told not to turn up by their teachers. Minimal health and government services are expected to keep running, with employees deemed to be essential forbidden from taking part in strikes. Zimbabwe has seen a wave of strikes since the GNU came to office two years ago, though unions have warned that the latest one could be the largest for several years because it is indefinite. Analysts say Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who owes his political support to Zimbabwe's powerful trade unions, is under pressure to appease them while also addressing the country's budget deficit. (The Zimbabwean)

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