Zimbabwe police give public sector workers permission for protest over low pay

Sherry El Gergawi , Monday 4 Nov 2019

Zimbabwe civil service apex council decided to stage a protest on Wednesday to ask for higher pay for public sector workers as they see this is the only way to cushion their suffering against inflation.

Zimbabweans protest
File Photo: Protesters demonstrate in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital, on Monday 15 January, 2019 (AP)

Zimbabwe police have given main government workers' union green light to protest on Wednesday to press for higher pay as inflation rendered their wages worthless.

The decision adds to President Emmerson Mnangagwa's woes as state doctors entered their 59th day on strike on Friday after defying a court order to return to work, saying a pay rise offered by the government failed to meet everyday costs.

This step is widely seen as a test of President's willingness to tolerate dissent.

"The civil service apex council has unanimously resolved to stage a demonstration on 6 November," Cecilia Alexander, chairperson of the umbrella union said in a letter addressed to the labour ministry.

Unions say this is the only way to cushion public sector workers against inflation that economists say reached 380 percent in September, had eroded the value of salaries and many workers could no longer afford basics including food and transport to work.

Unions want the lowest government employees paid the equivalent of $475 (7,251 Zimbabwe dollars) a month compared to the 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars they earn now.

A notice received from police by the Apex Council of public sector unions said the protest could go ahead but also warned that police would stop the march if it turned violent.

"The regulating authority still reserves the right to stop the gathering should it turn out to a public order threat or violent. Police will monitor," Oscar Mugomeri, police commander for Harare central district, wrote in the letter.

Mugomeri could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Government officials will meet the Apex Council on Tuesday, a day before the protest, to give feedback on unions' demand for workers to be paid US dollar-indexed salaries, the union said.

Charles Chinosengwa, spokesman for the Apex Council, which represents 230,000 workers - excluding the health and security sectors - said the protest march would go ahead irrespective of the outcome of Tuesday's meeting.

Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube, who projects the economy to contract by 6.5% this year, has said the government cannot meet the workers' demands.

Chinosengwa said unions were mobilising members from across Zimbabwe.

"This is strictly a labour issue. We don't need support from politicians, we are saying hands off to politicians," he said.

Mnangagwa has banned several opposition protests and faces accusations that he is using Mugabe's heavy-handed tactics.

In January, Mnangagwa announced a more than 100 percent hike in fuel prices triggering widespread protests which left at least 17 people dead and scores injured when soldiers opened fire on the strikers.

Shortages of foreign currency, fuel and power are among the most visible signs of a crisis that has revived memories of 2008, when hyperinflation wiped out savings and forced the government to abandon its currency.

Mnangagwa says Zimbabweans should be patient while his government pursues economic reforms, including gradually cutting subsidies on fuel and electricity and the re-introduction of the domestic currency.

Daily life in Zimbabwe is getting harder, with prices of basic goods, fuel and electricity rising.

Mnangagwa, who took power after the late Robert Mugabe was ousted in a coup in 2017 promised to revive the economy and declared Zimbabwe "open for business" and had also pledged to end the country's international isolation, woo back investors and generate economic growth to fund the country's shattered public services.

A government document early this year said around 7.5 million people -- around half of the population -- in both rural and urban areas would require food aid between February 2019 and March next year.

Accordingly, hope fades for a quick economic recovery under Mnangagwa administration as the economy has declined even further since he took his office in 2017.

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