Zimbabwe’s civil servants on Tuesday declared that they were unable to go to work because of the soaring cost of living and government’s failure to pay their salaries in foreign currency.
The public sector workers joined government doctors, who have been on strike for the past 43 days demanding to be paid in foreign currency.
Unions representing civil servants, however, stopped short of calling a strike by saying their members were “incapacitated", perhaps in order to avoid reprisals from the authorities.
“Here is a situation where one has no capacity to work,” he said. “The person wants to go to work but has no capacity. It is a different scenario to a stay-away,”
Apex Council co-chairperson Thomas Muzondo told journalists in Harare.
The unions want the least paid worker to get $475 a month from a Zimbabwe dollar equivalent of $67(ZW$ 1 023).
In August, the government gave civil servants a 76 per cent salary increase but unions say the salaries have already been eroded by inflation.
Zimbabwe is grappling with runaway inflation, foreign currency and fuel shortages as well as 18-hour daily power cuts.
The deepening economic crisis has brewed labour unrest with doctors and nurses engaging in regular job boycotts.
A group of 14 public sector unions – the Apex Council - that have a combined membership of 230 000 workers said their members were no longer able to render normal services.
“The Civil Service Apex Council hereby notify the government of Zimbabwe that civil servants are severely incapacitated and that unless the situation is adequately addressed they will not be able to render their services as normally and regularly as usual,” the Council said in a letter to the government.
It warned the government against victimising "workers who fail to come to work because they cannot afford to" until they are capacitated.
Zimbabwe ended a decade of dollarisation in June and since then prices of basic commodities such as fuel, sugar, maize meal and cooking oil have been going up every week because of the weakening local currency.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who took over from long time ruler Robert Mugabe in a military coup in 2017, has appeared clueless on reversing a debilitating economic collapse.
Kneejerk reactions have characterised his efforts as bans on cash payouts by mobile money agents were reversed after a couple of days and the surrogate currency - the RTGS dollar and bond notes - sent to be replaced by new prints in November.