Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has promised low-paid civil servants an increase in pay by June. His promise came in a meeting Wednesday with representatives of state employees, including teachers, health care workers and soldiers.
Mr. Mugabe said the lowest paid workers now receiving $128 a month will receive at least $251 dollars monthly. The increase, he promised, will take effect in June.
Addressing journalists after the meeting, Mr. Mugabe said he was touched by the plight of civil servants. He said the increase to a level just half the poverty line of US$502 would still be a disgrace as civil servants “deserved better.”
The President blamed Western sanctions for the low level of civil service salaries.
"I listened to the problems that they have, mainly their conditions of service and the non-monetary benefits which they are not getting," Mr. Mugabe said. "Their salaries are very poor and we sympathize with them."
Zimbabwe Teachers Association Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Ndlovu told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sithandekile Mhlanga that civil servants asked to meet with the president in February following a series of failed negotiations with the government.
Public Service Minister Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said pay increases can only be made following recommendations from his ministry, which is still in negotiations with unions.
Mr. Mugabe's promise of a salary increase for many low-paid state workers injected a new element into the longstanding stalemate on the state worker pay issue.
Representatives of state workers praised his intervention – but it raised questions as to the process for resolving such issues, as Mukonoweshuro noted.
For more on the presidential promise which observers linked to the next elections which are expected by early 2012, reporter Sandra Nyaira spoke with Progressive Teachers’ Union General Secretary Raymond Majongwe and economist Prosper Chitambara of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe.
The institute is an arm of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.
Both said Zimbabwe's governing parties - Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change whose main formation is led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai - must bury their political differences for now to help struggling Zimbabweans.
Majongwe said Mr. Mugabe convinced them he understood their plight was sincere.