Most workers at Zimbabwe's state-controlled fixed-line telephone monopoly received scant wages or no pay at all for the work they did in December, due to the doubling in late 2006 of health care charges and other deductions from their pay.
Labor sources said Tel-One's board refused to open discussions with the union that represents phone company workers on the outsized paycheck deductions.
Phone company workers turned down an offer from management of a Christmas party, saying they did not want to go home full only to see their families hungry.
Phone company management invited workers to borrow a month’s salary at an interest rate of 7%. Most of the workers earn some Z$64,000 a month, or about US$18 at the parallel market exchange rate which reflects the cost of food and other essentials.
One company official confirmed that Tel-One made loans to its workers, but refused to provide more details.
Some employees of Zimpapers, publisher of the state-controlled Herald newspaper and other titles, also saw their paychecks depleted when the company doubled rents for workers, mostly Herald and Sunday Mail employees, living in company flats.
The Communications and Allied Services Workers Union, which represents workers at Tel-One, said making loans to employees doesn’t address the underlying problem.
Union chief Lovemore Matombo, also president of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, told reporter Jonga Kandemiiri of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that from now on the union will not settle in negotiations for amounts under the poverty line.
The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe said earlier this month that a family of six needs more than Z$350,000 a month to purchase food and other essentials. Zimbabweans regard the financial result of the council's monthly survey as the national poverty line, but with inflation raging at 1,181% even many professionals live beneath it.
More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...