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Zimbabwe Civil Servants Interrupt One-Week Strike for New Discussions

Apex Council Chairwoman Tendai Chikowore said the decision to suspend the strike was taken following receipt of a letter from Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga addressing negotiators for state workers

Representatives of striking Zimbabwean civil servants said Tuesday that workers on Wednesday will suspend a five-day labor action that they launched on Monday to allow for fresh negotiations with the country's national unity government.

Apex Council Chairwoman Tendai Chikowore told VOA that the decision to suspend the strike was taken in a meeting called to discuss a letter from Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga addressing negotiators for state workers. In it she said the government has drafted a position paper on salaries and working conditions for public workers.

Chikowore said that if worker representatives are not satisfied with the discussions they will reopen the job action. She said state workers will shift tactics again on Friday.

The announcement came as Job Sikhala, president of the MDC 99 splinter faction of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change, called on state workers to continue their strike and join him in seeking to topple what he describes as the government of President Robert Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF co-governs with other MDC wings.

But state worker representative Chikowore said the strike was purely a labor action and that workers will not take orders from any political party.

Sikhala criticized the parties in the government of national unity for politicizing the strike by state workers, saying that the issue needs urgent government action.

Referring to an attack by ZANU-PF on Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga and a statement by Mugabe spokesman George Charamba saying the presidency is closely following the public sector salary issue, Sikhala charged that ZANU-PF is responsible for the current low level of state worker remuneration.

Sikhala said ZANU-PF has been looting national resources since 1980 and is now diverting diamonds from the Marange alluvial diamond field of eastern Manicaland province, leading to the inability of the state to properly compensate workers.

Sikhala also criticized Matibenga for declining to speak to journalists and attacked some trade unionists leading the strike saying their arrogance cannot be tolerated.

Sikhala said the government has been splashing out on luxury cars for ministers and allowances for legislators while paying workers peanuts.

Meanwhile, placard-waving civil servants picketed at the Kaguvi and Makombe government offices for four hours Tuesday, urging fellow workers to join the strike and to discourage government officials from threatening those who have joined.

In the strike’s second day some civil servants continued to report for duty, especially non-unionised workers. Many teachers heeded the call, forcing some schools to close.

Apex Council member and Zimbabwe Teachers’ Association Chief Executive Officer Sifiso Ndlovu told Jonga Kandemiiri that the worker protests had communicated the message but that the response from officials had not been encouraging.

Public Services Association Deputy Executive Secretary Jeremiah Bvirindi said some workers who have not joined are unaware of their trade union and worker rights.