A five-day strike called by Zimbabwean civil servants to demand that their salaries be in effect doubled got of to a slow start Monday with teachers for the most part heeding the call by the APEX Council bargaining unit to stay at home.
School children in many parts of the country were turned away after unions called for the five-day stayaway this week following a one-day action last Thursday that was not widely observed according to VOA sources.
But APEX Council Chairwoman Tendai Chikowore said the union was pleased with the response on Monday - though she alleged intimidation tactics by government departmental heads to discourage employees from joining the strike.
Chikowore said workers want across-the-board pay rises with the lowest-paid workers rising to US$538 a month from US$253 currently, plus medical insurance.
The union is also demanding a special allowance for workers in rural areas.
Chikowore said the strike will continue tomorrow with pickets concentrated on government offices where supervisors are allegedly harassing workers.
Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga said she was not aware of the strike, adding that the government has sought a meeting with union representatives Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai issued a statement blaming the ZANU-PF side of the unity government for derailing efforts to boost public pay by drawing further on diamond revenues.
The MDC said ZANU-PF is abusing the civil servants strike to score political points.
The statement said the MDC believes it would be possible to raise the necessary funds if revenues from the sale of diamonds from the Marange field in eastern Zimbabwe were remitted directly to the Treasury, if an estimated 75,000 "ghost workers" were eliminated from public payrolls, and if foreign travel by officials were dramatically cut back.
"It is imperative that the government gives competitive wages to its employees commensurate with the cost of living in order not only to retain the workforce, but as a way to motivate maximum work returns from them," the MDC statement said.
Mines Minister Obert Mpofu, who the MDC blames for a lack of transparency in diamond sales, said it is the MDC that is seeking to gain mileage from the strike.