Thousands of Zimbabwean civil servants conducted a one-day strike Thursday though the industrial action was ignored by many public employees in most government departments in major cities, towns and rural areas.
Union leaders described the strike as a success and urged government workers to go back to work on Friday before launching a week-long action on Monday.
Sifiso Ndlovu, a member of the Apex Council bargaining unit and chief executive of the Zimbabwe Teachers Association, said at least 70 percent of the 230,000 state employees went on strike, mainly in urban areas.
Ndlovu said the council, which negotiates with the government on behalf of civil servants, resolved Thursday to embark on a more ambitious week of labor action.
But it was business as usual in Gweru, capital of Midlands province, as most civil servants reported for duty despite calls from their union leaders to stay home.
In an informal survey of points around the country, some state employees told VOA that the strike almost paralyzed a number of hospitals as nurses also joined the industrial action. But they said some civil servants in Harare, Bulawayo and Masvingo went to work as usual for fear of being sanctioned by the government.
Abbiot Moyo, a Harare teacher, said the strike was largely heeded by primary school teachers in the capital city. No lessons were being conducted in most schools visited by VOA reporters Harare and parents had to be contacted to pick up their children.
Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga declined to comment. The Cabinet, not expected to hold its first meeting in 2012 until early February, is unlikely to resolve the issue soon as most ministers and President Robert Mugabe are currently on leave.
Deputy Public Service Minister Andrew Langa said the government is prepared to engage civil servants although it is financially strapped.
Unions have argued that the government must set aside funds generated from the sale of diamonds from the Marange field in Manicaland province for public workers salary increases. But the government says revenues are not sufficient for a raise.
Public sector unions are essentially asking that salaries be doubled to just over $500 a month for the lowest-paid workers. But with civil service salaries now consuming some 60 percent of the budget, such an increase would equal 120 percent of revenues.
For perspective on the salary deadlock reporter Tatenda Gumbo turned to Executive Director John Mufukare of the Employers Confederation of Zimbabwe and political commentator Charles Mangongera. Mangongera said the civil servant strike is meant to pressure on the government to increase pay, but added that both the state and the unions must address a number of underlying factors to resolve the dispute.