(Formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Telecommunications strike threatens fragile economy

The suspension of thousands of telephone operators in Zimbabwe was likely to place a further strain on an already weak economy, a senior trade unionist has warned.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Lovemore Matombo confirmed on Monday that about 3,600 striking workers at two state-owned companies, Tel One and Zimpost, had received letters of suspension. In October the workers walked out in protest against the management's failure to pay them a salary increase recommended by an arbitrator in March.

"We engaged with management on several occasions and were led to believe that the salary increments agreed upon would materialise. Unfortunately, there has been no real progress since March, which led to the walk-out," Matombe told IRIN.

He added that ZCTU would continue negotiations with management to reverse the suspensions until a "reasonable agreement" was reached.

In March the labour arbitration court ruled that the lowest Tel One worker be paid a net salary of Zim $861 241 (about US $160) to cushion them from hyperinflation, now hovering around 250 percent after declining from around 600 percent in January.

Matombo said Tel One management unilaterally implemented the award at 100 percent less than the amount decided by the arbitrator.

Harare-based economist Denis Nikisi said the suspension of the workers would have a serious impact on the business sector.

"Both parastatals have a significant customer base, and if complaints are not addressed timeously it could lead to a loss of business opportunities - already several businesses are struggling to stay afloat," Nikisi said.

Last month Zimbabwean teachers went on a nationwide strike to press for better pay and allowances following a breakdown in negotiations with the government to increase salaries by 100 percent.

The Zimbabwe Teachers Association had been threatening since June this year to pursue industrial action over low salaries, after giving the government a 15 September deadline.

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