HARARE Zimbabwe's main public service union on Friday rejected a government plan to cut 25,000 jobs and suspend annual bonuses, saying it would hurt workers already struggling to make ends meet.
The Apex Council, a grouping of all state sector unions, demanded talks with the government over the plan that Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa has said is essential to ensure the southern African country can keep paying its staff.
"We believe these measures are ill-conceived and can only further entrench the doom and gloom that has become the lot of the average civil servant," said Cecelia Alexander, head of the Apex Council which called a two-day walkout in July by teachers, doctors and nurses over pay delays, part of the biggest strike in Zimbabwe in 10 years.
In a budget statement on Thursday, Chinamasa said state sector wages took up 97 percent of revenues collected between January and June, a situation that could destabilise the economy.
It also meant the government risked being unable to pay salaries, Chinamasa said, proposing the suspension of annual bonuses for state employees this year and next to save $180 million annually.
Last year, Chinamasa made similar proposals but was forced to back down by President Robert Mugabe who told him to find the money elsewhere.
Under Chinamasa's plan, the civil service would shed 25,000 jobs, reducing the workforce to 273,000 by the end of 2017. Salaries for ministers and senior officials would be cut by up to 20 percent and Zimbabwe would close some embassies abroad.
Unable to get funds from international lenders, Zimbabwe is in its worst financial crisis since adopting the U.S. dollar in 2009. Economic difficulties have fuelled political tensions, with anti-government protests over cash shortages and unemployment.
On Friday, Harare police fired teargas to break up a march by a dozen social media activists from #Tajamuka protesting against a police ban on demonstrations, witnesses said. Tajamuka is slang for 'defiance' in Zimbabwe's Shona language.
Separately, Mugabe told a central committee meeting of his ruling ZANU-PF party that the opposition was trying to fuel a popular uprising and that the government would take "very strong" action against public violence.
"Let these opposition parties and all those groups be warned that our patience has limits and will certainly run out," he said in front of reporters at the start of the meeting, before blaming Zimbabwe's economic woes on Western sanctions.
(Editing by Ed Cropley)