January 8, 2019 / 5:10 PM / 3 months ago

Zimbabwe teachers divided on strike for U.S. dollar pay

* U.S. dollar shortage at its worst since Mugabe downfall

* Mnangagwa seeks to revive economy after missteps by Mugabe

* Teachers say will not flinch from U.S. dollar pay demand

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE, Jan 8 (Reuters) - Zimbabwean teachers were divided at the start of an indefinite strike on Tuesday, with those in towns reporting for class while their rural colleagues largely heeded calls by unions to boycott work to press the government to pay U.S. dollar salaries.

The southern African nation is gripped by its worst shortage of dollars since a military coup ended nearly four decades of rule by Robert Mugabe in November 2017, leading to shortages of everything from fuel to medicines to soft drinks.

Teachers, like doctors who stopped work more than a month ago, say their salaries paid in electronic dollars are fast losing value compared to physical cash which they are demanding.

As the dollar crunch worsens and social unrest grows, Mnangagwa could find it harder to convince skeptical Zimbabweans that he is capable of reviving the economy after decades of missteps under his predecessor and mentor Mugabe.

At some schools around central Harare visited by Reuters, teachers were present and conducting classes.

Zimbabwe Teachers Association president Richard Gundane said a survey on Tuesday showed that urban teachers had reported for duty but most in rural areas did not go to work and pupils were turned away.

“We don’t want to call it (strike) successful because we are not celebrating,” Gundane said, adding that teachers hoped promises by government to review salaries could end the impasse.

Gundane could not say how many of ZIMTA’s 44,000 members stayed at home but that more teachers would join the job boycott in the coming days if their demands were not quickly met.

Zimbabwe employs more than 100,000 teachers.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) and Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe told a news conference that although teachers attended school, most were not teaching but could not provide statistics.

Raymond Majongwe, PTUZ secretary general said his members would work twice a week until the government met their demands.

“The issue of the demand to be paid in U.S. dollars is a reality and we are not going to flinch on that,” said Majongwe.

After a meeting with public sector unions on Monday, acting Labour Minister July Moyo promised to review their pay and allowances although no money was set aside for this in the 2019 budget presented in November. He did not give a timeline.

This would scupper government’s ambitious plan to cut the fiscal deficit by more than half to 5 percent of GDP this year and bring down the wage bill to 70 percent of the budget from more than 90 percent previously. (Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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