By MacDonald Dzirutwe
HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government on Thursday offered civil servants a 10 percent pay rise in a bid to avert widespread unrest, but this was immediately rejected by unions pressing for U.S. dollar salaries.
The offer came after doctors ended a 40-day strike for better pay and conditions which had crippled public hospitals but teachers are also on strike, and other civil servants have threatened additional action.
The southern African nation adopted the U.S. dollar in 2009 but cash shortages have plunged its financial system into disarray, threatening unrest and undermining Mnangagwa’s efforts to win back foreign investors sidelined under his predecessor Robert Mugabe.
With not enough hard currency to back up funds showing in bank accounts, the value of electronic money has plummeted, prompting businesses and civil servants to demand payment in U.S. dollars they can withdraw.
Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Richard Gundane, who attended Thursday’s meeting with the government, said unions had rejected outright the government offer, which would have come into effect from April 1.
“The offer has been rejected as a far cry from the workers expectations,” Gundane said. “The expectation was that there would be a cost-of-living adjustment commensurate with inflation with immediate effect.”
Thomas Muzondo, deputy chairman of the Apex Council which represents 16 public sector unions, said another meeting with government negotiators had been scheduled for next week.
Zimbabwe’s annual inflation soared to a new 10-year high of 31 percent in November after prices of basic goods spiked, amid an acute shortage of dollars that has made imports expensive.
Earlier, junior doctors who downed tools on Dec. 1 complaining about lack of drugs in hospitals and to press for U.S. dollar salaries, announced an end to their job boycott without a pay deal.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA) said the government had started delivering medicines and other sundries in state hospitals and made a written undertaking to hire more doctors and review salaries and allowances. No timeline was given.
“Our members have begrudgingly resumed work with effect from today as dialogue continues,” ZHDA said in a statement. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Ed Osmond)