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Zimbabwe unions call for protest over pay

By AFP

HARARE (AFP) - Zimbabwean unions Friday called on civil servants to protest next week to demand a near doubling of basic wages, after the finance minister ruled out any increases due to budget cuts.

"We are calling for a mass demonstration by all civil servants in Harare on Tuesday," Tendai Chikowore, spokeswoman for the state employees' umbrella union, told AFP.

"We are demonstrating against the government. The grievances are long-standing. We want a review of our basic salaries, rural allowances, transport and housing allowances."

Chikowore said the workers want across-the-board pay rises, including a raise from $286 to $560 a month for the lowest-paid government workers.

"The basic salary was not reviewed in January and we thought the government in its wisdom would be sensitive and make provision for an increase in our basic salaries in the budget," she said.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti ruled out any wage hikes for this year when he presented the mid-term budget Wednesday, saying lower-than-expected revenues had forced the government to trim its spending from the planned $4 billion to $3.6 billion.

"Indeed, even in the absence of such (salary) reviews, government faces the real danger of defaulting on salary payment," he said Wednesday.

"Hence, we need not take the current monthly payments for granted but seriously appreciate the limited fiscal space for wage adjustments."

Biti also blamed the budget crunch on overspending on foreign travel, and said the government had taken on 10,000 new employees without following proper hiring procedures.

About one-third of the government's 230,000 employees were already believed to be "ghost workers" -- fictitious names that allow others to receive salaries fraudulently, according to Biti.

After a decade-long crisis, Zimbabwe's economy has begun recovering following a power-sharing agreement between long-time rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the wake of failed 2008 polls.

But the recovery remains fragile. The government has lowered its growth forecast for the year from 9.4 percent to 5.6 percent, Biti said Wednesday.

Mugabe has accused Biti, a Tsvangirai ally, of deliberately sabotaging the government by refusing any salary increases.

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