- More disgruntled Zimbabwean government employees have joined striking doctors and nurses to demand higher salaries as the economy continues to crumble.
Lecturers at the country's eight state-owned educational institutions have become the third group of employees - after doctors and power utility workers - to take industrial action this year. Government awarded civil servants across the board a 300 percent salary increase last week, but this was rejected as too low.
Bernard Njekeya, a spokesman for the Zimbabwe State Universities Union of Academics Association, told IRIN that the lecturers would be on a go-slow until the end of a two-week period given to the government to address their grievances.
"If the period expires and no meaningful adjustments have been done, we will go on a full-blown strike, and no doubt this will be very detrimental to the educational sector; it is students who will suffer more, and government is the only party that can avert this. We need a pay rise that takes into account the worsening hyperinflationary environment that has caused massive price hikes of essentials," he said.
The educators want their salaries adjusted to match the rate of inflation, now estimated at more than 1,200 percent annually. Junior lecturers earn about US$480 (at the official foreign exchange rate), while those holding senior lectureships get around US$740, way below the US$1,406 a month the Zimbabwe Consumer Council says it costs a family of six to subsist.
As spiralling prices take basic household items further beyond the reach or ordinary Zimbabweans, more employees have placed their demands before the government. Last week, the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, which represents the bulk of the country's secondary and primary school teachers, gave the authorities 30 days to raise their monthly pay from US$240 to almost US$12,000. Student unions at tertiary institutions have also warned of protests over increased tuition fees.
The strike by doctors and nurses, now more a month old, has left dozens of desperate patients without medical care in rural and urban areas. The doctors, who earn less than US$240 a month, opened the gate to what has become a growing torrent of wage protests by demanding an 8,000 percent increase to cushion themselves against inflation, and high transport and food costs.
Government employees in the security sector, including police and soldiers, who get an average of about US$280 a month, are also reported to be unhappy. They are not allowed to go on strike, but top security officials have warned that if the government does not raise their salaries and improve conditions of service, their personnel may end up joining opposition forces to remove the ruling ZANU-PF party from power.
The state-owned Standard newspaper reported on Sunday that many soldiers had left the Zimbabwe National Army over poor pay to take up posts as security guards or restaurant waiters in neighbouring South Africa and Botswana.
Police spokesman Wayne Bvudzijena said more than 10,000 police officers had tendered their resignations last year, while a High Court judge last week urged government to increase the salaries of employees in the justice delivery system, saying low wages had already forced many to seek employment in other countries.
Analysts have warned that Zimbabwe may experience more work boycotts and street protests as hardship escalates, aimed against a government accused by many of ruining the once vibrant economy.
"What we are seeing this year is a situation whereby government workers are fed up with their employer and are determined to show by way of job boycotts that they need better salaries," said Felix Mafa, president of the Post Independence Survivors Trust, a nongovernmental organisation (NGO) based in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city. The NGO advocates for justice for the victims of the Gukurahundi operation conducted between 1982 and 1987 against PF-ZAPU, which drew most of its support from the Ndebele people in southwestern Zimbabwe, and Mugabe's ZANU, whose cadres were mainly drawn from the majority Shona people in the north.
"It is public knowledge that the security forces are also disenchanted because of poor working conditions and low wages," Mafa said. "If the situation continues like this, we are likely to plunge into serious turmoil, as everyone becomes against the ruling authorities."
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