Zimbabwe state workers will go ahead with a street protest after government failed to give in to their demand for US dollar-indexed salaries to cushion them against soaring inflation, union officials said.
Police gave the Apex Council of public sector unions permission to march for better pay in what is widely seen as a test of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s willingness to tolerate dissent after banning recent protests.
Workers are enduring Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, unemployment above 90%, acute shortages of foreign exchange, fuel and medicines and rolling power cuts that have hit mines and industry.
Workers expected government to at least make a new wage offer at Tuesday’s meeting. Government says it cannot afford dollar-indexed pay, which would see the lowest paid worker earn 7,293 Zimbabwe dollars ($475) a month from 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars now.
“The employer brought nothing to the table, completely zero,” Apex Council said in a statement signed by chair Cecilia Alexander and organising secretary Charles Chinosengwa.
The union said government reneged on its earlier offer to pay all workers’ annual bonuses in November and would now stagger payments between this month and December.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters government did not dispute the need to raise salaries but state spending was under pressure to import grain after a drought and fund the summer farming season, among others.
Mutsvangwa said government tried to discourage the Apex Council going ahead with Wednesday’s protest.
“The budget is ending and is difficult to get additional resources from the current budget. A review in the cost of living is definite in 2020,” Mutsvangwa said during a post-cabinet briefing.
Junior and middle level doctors at state hospitals have been on strike for two months pressing for higher pay and Mutvangwa said 77 of them were discharged after disciplinary hearings.
Mnangagwa is under pressure to deliver on promises made during last year’s election campaign to revive the economy by pushing through economic reforms, attracting foreign investment to create jobs and rebuilding collapsing infrastructure.