ZIMBABWE: Government divided over lecturer pay hike

Zimbabwean college and polytechnic lecturers have gone on strike demanding a salary increase. This amid divisions in the country's unity government, with the president consenting to the hike while the finance minister, drawn from the prime minister's rival political party, is resisting the move.

The lecturers, who work at state-run polytechnics, teacher colleges and vocational and industrial training centres, have joined a chorus of civil servants from across the country demanding a pay increment, in a development that also saw teachers going on strike last week.

The academics downed their tools in compliance with a directive from their union, the College Lecturers Association of Zimbabwe, or Colaz, with members at 28 institutions of higher learning, including Harare Polytechnic and Belvedere Teachers College located in the country's capital Harare.

Colaz President David Dzatsunga said despite having the same qualifications as lecturers at state-run universities, the latter earn up to US$1,200 per month while its members take home US$200 per month. He added that the salary discrepancy with colleagues at universities occurs despite the fact that they all fall under the Ministry of Higher and Tertiary Education.

"We are on strike and we have no reason to go back to work," said Dzatsunga. "We also have the same qualifications [as] university lecturers."

In January, as University World News reported, Zimbabwe's cash-strapped government took the unprecedented step of awarding salary increases to university lecturers only, to stem a crippling brain drain that had forced the closure of a number of departments and faculties.

Dzatsunga said in the current strike the priority was a salary hike, although members also have other, peripheral grievances including vehicle and housing loans or schemes.

As reported by Zimvest: "The lecturers, earning around $200 a month, are demanding salaries that are in tandem with the poverty datum line, currently pegged at $500."

But amid the demands there are deep divisions in Zimbabwe's coalition government, which was formed two years ago between bitter political rivals President Robert Mugabe of Zanu-PF and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Mugabe has agreed to a salary hike for the lecturers and others, while the MDC has voiced opposition to the move. The salary issue is just one of many over which the two parties express sharp differences.

Mugabe has said civil servants, including polytechnic and college lecturers, must be awarded an increment back-dated to June this year, while Finance Minister Tendai Biti has opposed the move for a number of reasons.

Biti said findings of a recent government audit that unearthed nearly 75,000 'ghost workers', suspected of being beneficiaries of Mugabe's patronage system spanning his 31-year rule, must first be dismissed. Mugabe's party is disputing the audit findings.

The finance minister has also demanded increased accountability regarding proceeds from diamond mining that are not reaching the treasury from mines and mining developments that are under Mugabe's control.

Further, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has warned the finance minister that a salary increment now would send the country's economy back to the dark days of its world-record inflation, which reached 2.3 million percent. The IMF added that a salary hike should be considered next year.

"Such increases are not affordable, could lead to wage arrears and could be destabilising for competitiveness of manufacturing, the banking system and external accounts, putting at risk recent improvements in growth performance and living standards," read part of the IMF's report.

"Elimination of ghost workers and other irregularities in the government payroll will liberate fiscal space for better remuneration of civil servants," the report continued.

Mugabe has accused Biti of declining to increase wages as a ploy to trigger protests that would destabilise the government and topple his rule, and the mounting differences have seen him saying fresh polls must be held this year to collapse the coalition government.

But the MDC has rejected an early poll, saying Zimbabwe must first institute electoral and media reforms and entrench freedom of assembly and association, among other things, to deliver an undisputed outcome.