HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe’s main public sector union has backed down from plans for a national strike, citing the volatile situation after security forces cracked down on protesters this month, but teachers will go ahead with a work stoppage.
The Zimbabwe Teachers Union (ZIMTA) and Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said in a joint statement on Thursday that their more than 55,000 members will not report for duty from next Tuesday, exposing a split between the education sector and the rest of the civil service.
“Our members will be withdrawing their services/labour and will not be reporting for duty with effect from the said date,” the unions said. A ZIMTA official said other smaller teachers’ groups would likely join the strike.
Wage negotiations between the government and the Apex Council, which represents 17 public sector unions, broke down on Wednesday. The unions then met to decide a date for a strike and announce it this week but the talks ended in disarray.
“Apex feels that its not conducive to take action,” Cecilia Alexander, Apex Council’s chairwoman told Reuters.
“The situation is volatile and polarized and the action we take may be hijacked for issues which have nothing to do with labour.”
A three-day strike called by another union from Jan. 14 over a fuel price hike by President Emmerson Mnangagwa turned into violence and looting. Rights groups say at least 12 people were killed but police say only three died.
The events of the past two weeks exposed the instinctive heavy-handedness of security forces, leading many to say that Mnangagwa is reverting to the strongarm tactics used by his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017.
Zimbabweans say Mnangagwa is failing to deliver on pre-election promises to provide accessible health and education and jobs to the majority, leading to growing frustration that analysts say could trigger further unrest.
The government’s 305,000 workers are demanding wage rises and payments in dollars to help them stave off spiralling inflation and an economic crisis that has sapped supplies of cash, fuel and medicines in state hospitals.
Unions have traded accusations of being paid by the opposition and donors to go on strike and cause violence.
Mnangagwa’s spokesman acknowledged the difficult economic situation on Wednesday but said it would take time to rebuild after suffering for decades.
More than 1,000 people were arrested for public order offences following the protests in mid-January and lawyers say they have been unable to extend representation to several hundred detainees including children.
Evan Mawarire, the most prominent among those arrested and charged with subversion, was on Wednesday night released from the country’s maximum prison after two weeks in detention. He told reporters at the prison that he was held with more than 300 others, some with broken limbs and in need of medical care.
(This story has been refilled to change the headline)
Editing by James Macharia and Angus MacSwan