Wed, 18 Sep 2019

The main Zimbabwe public sector union on Saturday rejected a pay offer from the government, which is trying to avert threats of strike action amid growing anger over the country's ailing economy.

The Apex Council, which represents most of the country's public service workers, said the proposal to boost salaries by 76 percent fell far below the demands of civil servants, who are buckling under the pressure of skyrocketing living costs.

Zimbabwe's government offer would see the lowest-paid worker taking home about ZW$1 023 (US$97) up from the current 582 (US$55).

In a statement, the Apex Council which represents the workers said "the offer does not meet the stated position of the workers, which is pegged at ZW$4,750 (US$452) for the least paid civil servant."

The offer came after some workers had threatened strike action over the high cost of living.

The civil servant salary bill gobbles up more than 90% of tax revenue.

The pay impasse is part of gathering storm clouds facing the Zimbabwean government amid shortages of basics like fuel, bread and medicines and surging prices when the goods are available.

On assuming office, President Emmerson Mnangagwa who came to power following the 2017 ouster of long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, promised more freedoms and to revamp an already ailing economy.

But the country has seen growing protests as the economy falters.

A Harare court on Saturday freed on bail 10 people arrested during protests by a rural teachers' union, a day after the demonstration over poor salaries and working conditions.

Eight of those arrested on Friday are from the Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ), whose members gathered outside the Finance Ministry's offices to present a petition as part of their protests in downtown Harare.

They carried a small red cardboard coffin, which they said symbolised the death of their livelihoods because their salaries have dropped in value to less than US$50 a month.

Along with their lawyer Doug Coltart and bystander, the teachers were arrested by the police and charged with criminal nuisance which attracts the equivalent of less than US$2.

But they refused to pay the fine arguing that by demonstrating peacefully, they were exercising a constitutionally guaranteed right.

They ended up spending the night in police custody.

One of the lawyers for the accused Jeremiah Bamu told AFP that the police arrested anybody who was in the vicinity of the protest "regardless of what business that person was doing".

Magistrate Nyasha Vitorini granted them bail of less than US$5 each and ordered them back to court on October 1.

A journalist also rounded up along with the teachers was later freed on Friday without charge.

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund warned the government against increasing civil servants' wages saying public wage growth must be aligned with economic growth and government revenue.

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