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Labor Strife Deepens At Zimbabwe Power Utility And In Hospitals

The Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority suspended more than 100 workers Friday for walking off the job in a strike staged to support demands for pay increases. Since the strike began on Thursday, widespread blackouts have hit the country.

The assistant secretary general of the Zimbabwe Electricity and Energy Workers Union, Gibson Mushinje, said the letters of suspension from ZESA management said that the industrial action carried out by the workers was illegal.

But Mushinje told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that ZESA workers will press their demand for increased salaries despite what he called a heavy-handed management response. ZESA management could not be reached.

Meanwhile, in the other major strike affecting Zimbabwe, doctors on strike at the four main state hospitals in Harare, the capital, and Bulawayo, the country's second largest city, hardened their position after Health Minister David Parirenyatwa visited a hospital on Thursday and ordered the doctors to return to work.

Hospital Doctors Association President Kudakwashe Nyamutukwa said more doctors have joined the work action and that the physicians will not resume work until Harare has addressed their grievances concerning pay and working conditions.

Meanwhile, sources said the government has put police and army units on high alert, fearing civil servants may also be ready to launch a nationwide strike. Public workers are unhappy with the 300% salary increase they are to receive this month.

Middle or senior-ranked civil servants earn between Z$35,000 and Z$56,000 monthly, but some make as little as Z$7,000. But Secretary General Agrippa Munyaka of the Government Workers Association denied his members planned to go on strike.

Though public workers are dissatisfied with the scheduled pay increase, they hope to reopen discussions with the government to regain ground lost to inflation.

Still, defense expert Giles Mutseekwa, member of parliament for Mutare North and defense secretary for the Movement for Democratic Change faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai, confirmed state security forces had indeed been put on alert.

Labor unrest is clearly driven by the country’s economic crisis, as hyperinflation eats away at the purchasing power of families and workers find it harder to make a living.

But a top official of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said workers are also expressing anger and despair at the possibility President Robert Mugabe’s term in office might be extended by two years to 2010.

ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo told reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that more strikes can be expected once wage negotiations for the second quarter of the year get under way.

More reports from VOA'S Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...