Zimbabwe is mired in its worst economic crisis in a decade, with triple-digit inflation, rolling power cuts and shortages of U.S. dollars, fuel and bread that have revived memories of the hyperinflation that forced it to ditch its currency in 2009.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has proposed big pay rises for doctors and other public sector workers in an attempt to avert crippling strikes. Police have banned a series of protests called by the opposition in major cities and have used tear gas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators.
The main unions representing doctors and teachers, who make up the bulk of public service workers, said they had rejected the government’s salary offers, which would see the lowest paid worker earning 1,023 Zimbabwe dollars ($90.45) a month.
The doctors accepted their 60% pay increase but said it was not sufficient to avert planned strike action. The teachers are not currently on strike.
“We met with the government representatives yesterday and they promised to expedite other allowances for health personnel but so far it has just been empty promises,” the head of the Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association (ZHDA), Peter Magombeyi, told Reuters.
“They have taken us for granted for too long, but we are ready to go back to work as soon as they offer us something tangible, which has not been forthcoming so far.”
The Health Services Board (HSB), which represents the government, said in a statement late on Monday that it was surprised the doctors were taking strike action despite accepting the earlier pay offer.
ZHDA wants wages, which were previously pegged to the U.S. dollar, to be paid at the prevailing inter-bank market rate and says its members can no longer afford to report for duty due to surging inflation and the deterioration in the economy.
Their current salaries are worth less than 10% of what they were before the peg was scrapped due to high inflation.
At 1030 GMT on Tuesday, the Zimbabwe dollar traded at 11.31 against the U.S. dollar in the interbank market and 12.5 in the black market. Both rates are used to buy goods.
($1 = 11.31 Zimbabwe dollars)
Reporting by Alfonce Mbizwo, Writing by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Gareth Jones