HARARE – Rural teachers, who form a large part of long-suffering civil servants, have formally given notice to strike after growing disillusioned with President Robert Mugabe’s stone-broke government, which is failing to pay them on time.
This comes as the government has recently offered civil servants residential stands after it announced that it had no money to pay them their long overdue 2016 bonuses.
The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union (Artuz) issued the Civil Service Commission (CSC) with its notice to go on industrial action over the outstanding bonuses on Monday.
“Be pleased to take notice that Artuz, a duly registered union in terms of the law, is notifying your office on its intention to embark on strike for the failure by the Civil Service Commission, as the employer, to give dates for bonuses.
“The strike action will commence 14 days after confirmation of receipt of this letter,” Artuz secretary general Robson Chere said in the letter to CSC.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor John Mangudya and Public Service minister Prisca Mupfumira told civil servants last week that the government could only afford to pay them using residential stands and other non-monetary benefits, an offer that was flatly rejected by government workers.
Artuz president Obert Masaraure said they were demanding the bonuses since Mugabe had confirmed that they were entitled to them.
“Let’s demand what is duly ours. We have declared 2017 as a year of demanding a substantial piece of the national cake for the education sector and for the poor,” he said.
“Gore rekudyawo (it’s our year to eat also). Let it be clear to us that those who are dining at the table will not freely accommodate us and we have to fight for our place. Our bonus is part of our share of the national cake let’s fight for it,” Masaraure added.
Mugabe’s cash-strapped government has resorted to staggering pay dates for its civil servants as it has struggled to raise money for their salaries.
In December, the bulk of its bloated civil service endured a bleak Christmas after the government failed to pay them their salaries before the festive season.
Most of the workers, including rural and urban teachers were only paid at the beginning of this year.
Zimbabwe is currently deep in the throes of a mega economic crisis which has seen government revenues falling precipitously, amid horrendous company closures and private sector job losses.
As a result, the government has been struggling to meet its key obligations, including paying civil servants on time — leading to several stand-offs with its workers.
On July 6 last year, thousands of civil servants stayed away from work and heeded a call by exiled activist cleric, Evan Mawarire, to stage a crippling general strike which was variously described as one of the biggest stay-aways ever held in the country.
As part of his measures to try and cut down the government’s huge expenditure bill, about 90 percent of which goes to the salaries and benefits of its bloated workforce, Chinamasa tried unsuccessfully last year to temporarily stop paying bonuses and to reduce public service staff numbers, in his September mid-term fiscal policy review statement.
But Mugabe’s bleeding government swiftly reversed all the measures in what was described as a spectacular own goal, which sent shock waves throughout the country.
In his last budget statement in December, Chinamasa also painted a gloomy outlook for Zimbabwe’s struggling economy, sharply revising downwards the country’s 2016 growth prospects from the previously hoped-for 2,7 percent to a mere 0,6 percent — and thereby pointing to more troubles ahead for long-suffering citizens.
The lawyer-turned-treasury chief, who has often won industry’s kudos for his pragmatism, despite his principals’ destructive policies, was also brave enough to admit openly that the country’s economy was facing “a number of headwinds” that were retarding growth.