Zimbabwe could be heading for a winter of discontent as workers from both the public and private sector push for salary reviews – and threaten crippling strike action if their demands are not met.
On Tuesday police scuttled a proposed demonstration by disgruntled bank employees who wanted to protest publicly against low salaries and poor working conditions at Stanbic, one of the leading financial institutions.
The last-minute cancellation of the peaceful protest came despite the police initially authorising the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union (Zibawu) to stage the demonstration outside the premises of the bank.
Garikai Gwangwava, the officer commanding Harare Central District, in a letter to Zibawu president Peter Mutasa dated May 17, told the union that security concerns forced the police to cancel the demonstration.
“Security information reveals that certain political parties would want to take advantage of your lawful gathering at Stanbic Bank to engage in political violence.
”Your location is also strategic and any such violence would have grave consequences to the security of the state,” said Gwangwava.
Mutasa on Tuesday dispatched a memo to all Zibawu members advising them that the police had requested them to “shelve our demonstration until further notice”.
Information obtained by the Sunday Times indicated the bank employees were toying with filing an urgent High Court application challenging the banning of the peaceful protest.
Public services workers have also written to the National Joint Negotiating Council, demanding an update on the salary review for public workers.
The majority of about 200 000 civil servants take home $150 a month, yet the poverty datum line is estimated at $500.
The letter to the chairperson of NJNC followed a crisis meeting civil servant workers had with President Robert Mugabe last month in which they were pushing for a salary hike.
“It is our belief that by now government wheels should be grinding towards a June salary review and we are convinced that the midterm fiscal policy review will not ignore this important and grave matter of concern to the public service workers,” reads the letter to the chief government negotiator, written by the leader of the public servants union, Tendai Chikowore.
“The atmosphere in the public service is swelling with high expectation of a positive response on the part of government.
”It is in light of these expectations that we table a request for feedback on the progress regarding this matter,” added Chokowore.
Mugabe promised a pay rise in June, funded by the sale of Marange diamonds. But finance minister Tendai Biti said the fiscus had not received a cent from diamond sales.
Public sector sources said failure by the government to award government employees an increment in June could result in a crippling strike.
The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union has also warned of a similar action if the private sector refused to improve salaries of employees, most of whom earn between US$150 and US$300 a month.