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Air Zimbabwe Pilots, Back on Strike, Demand Payment Before Returning

Sources said Air Zimbabwe management told the pilots in a meeting that the troubled state carrier cannot raise funds to pay their arrears while they are on strike, to which the pilots responded by walking out

Air Zimbabwe pilots who walked off the job on Friday over unpaid salaries and allowances for June and July refused to return to work Monday after airline management failed to come up with an acceptable plan paying down those arrears.

Sources said management told the pilots that the airline cannot raise funds to pay them while they are on strike, to which the pilots responded by walking out.

Hundreds of Air Zimbabwe passengers were stranded domestically and abroad.

But Air Zimbabwe Manager for Europe David Mwenga said pilots and management are still in talks on how to end the strike.

“I am told that the discussions have up to now not yielded any positive results … so the strike is still continuing and all our Air Zimbabwe flights remain suspended,” he said.

London-based Nothando Ndlovu said members of a friend's family were unable to leave the country as alternative flights to Zimbabwe were financially out of reach.

Ndlovu said to make matters worse, the family may end up being deported from Britain as its immigration papers are expiring within the next few days.

“The family which was booked to leave the country Saturday on Air Zimbabwe is now failing to raise $3,500 for two seniors for one-way tickets to Harare," she said.

Economic commentator Masimba Kuchera said the chronic problems at Air Zimbabwe could be resolved if President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party would relinquish control of the carrier, which is saddled with debts on the order of US$100 million.

Air Zimbabwe is among 10 state enterprises that the government has earmarked for privatization, though little progress has been made in that direction in two years.

Economists say the government should look for a private partner for Air Zimbabwe which has been hit by at least three strikes by pilots and cabin crew this year alone.

The airline has also been suspended by the International Air Transport Association or IATA for failing to pay for flight booking services.

The carrier canceled flights to London and South Africa in June after fuel suppliers demanded cash up front as it owned them more than US$1.6 million.