PUBLIC sector workers’ unions have threatened to stage nationwide strikes starting next Tuesday after Finance Minister Tendai Biti ignored their pay demands in his mid-term budget review.
Tendai Chikowore, the president of Apex Council umbrella union for civil servants, said they felt “insulted by the arrogance of the government” after Biti’s statement to Parliament on Wednesday.
“This government has demonstrated a propensity for living large, yet claiming to be poor,” Chikowore said on Thursday.
“We have categorically and unequivocally rejected the announcement by the government as meaningless and highly provocative.
“The leadership of the Apex Council have therefore resolved to register all civil servants’ concerns through a massive demonstration on July 24.”
The unions say they will mobilise members for street marches in Harare which will end at Biti’s office.
The lowest-paid public sector worker earns $286 per month, which unions want raised to $560 per month.
But Biti told Parliament that the government was not generating enough money to match its expenditure. He slashed his 2012 budget by US$600 million after writing off projected expenditure from diamond sales.
And in a direct message to unions, Biti told them to be grateful that they were at least getting a wage.
“The government faces the real danger of defaulting on salary payments,” Biti warned. “We need not take the current monthly payments for granted, but seriously appreciate the limited fiscal space for wage adjustments.”
He said public sector pay would consume 73 percent of the entire 2012 budget – way more than his projection of 57 percent.
“The employment costs have become an elephant in the living room when viewed against overall expenditures,” Biti told MPs, insisting that the government had to “live within its means”.