Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, fighting for political survival in a tricky poll in two weeks, Wednesday ordered the government to award huge salary increases to restive civil servants, most of whom have been on strike demanding a pay rise.
Civil servants, notably teachers, nurses and doctors, have been on strike for several weeks demanding salary increases of more than 1,000 per cent, in some cases, and better working conditions.
They had defied government orders to go back to work, insisting on their pay demands to be met first.
The stand-off had paralysed all government-run schools and medical facilities, adding to Mugabe’s political troubles ahead of the 29 March poll in which he is facing a strong challenge from opponents capitalising on Zimbabwe’s unprecedented economic difficulties.
Teachers, who earned an average of ZWD300 million (ZWD30,000=1US) a month, are demanding a minimum of ZWD3.5 billion, citing high inflation of more than 100,000 per cent.
“Just yesterday I was signing a new salary schedule of big salaries for teachers and civil servants. I hope they will be happy because we have worked out very good salaries,” Mugabe said.
“Teachers please, please we don’t want strikes. These kids are yours,” he added.
He did not elaborate on the new pay.
In addition to being financially hard pressed by inflation, teachers and medical staff had also been irked by being left out when the government recently increased salaries for soldiers and other security services.
Analysts said it was unlikely Mugabe would reap much political capital out of the move, as surging inflation would make the benefits of the salary increases short-lived.