BY VANESSA GONYE
PRESSURE continues to mount on President Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country faces the prospect of crippling power cuts and looming work stoppages by doctors and teachers over poor salaries.
Power utility Zesa Holdings on Monday imposed rolling blackouts with industries — including mines — and households set to be without electricity for up to eight hours per day, which is likely to stoke mounting public anger against the failure by Mnangagwa’s administration to tackle an economic crisis that is characterised by shortages of fuel, medicines, foreign currency and rising food prices.
The southern African country last experienced such serious outages in 2016, while the latest blackouts are as a result of low water levels at Kariba Dam, which supplies water to the key Kariba South Power Station following a poor rainy season.
Zimbabweans are also grappling with soaring inflation that is eroding earnings and savings, while there appears to be no end in sight to the chronic fuel shortages.
Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries president Sifelani Jabangwe said the power outages would cripple industry.
“It will affect output, especially taking into consideration that our operating capacity is currently restricted. What makes matters worse is that these power outages are happening during working hours, thereby affecting the manufacturing sector. There is definitely need to find a way to get some imports into the country for our generation capacity at the moment is low,” he told NewsDay.
Doctors and teachers at public institutions yesterday gave government until month-end to address issues regarding their salaries and improve their working conditions or face a new wave of strikes.
The teachers and doctors are demanding salaries in United States dollars, among other benefits, from Mnangagwa who is battling discontent over his rule, price hikes and shortages in fuel, electricity and other basics.
Doctors have already written to government complaining over their employer’s failure to meet the promises made in January to force them to break a 40-day long strike.
They claim the salary adjustment awarded to them last month has already been eroded by the escalating cost of living precipitated by the plunging of the real time gross settlement dollar (ZWL$) against the US$.
Takavafira Zhou, president of the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe, and Obert Masaraure, leader of the Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz), said they had notified Mnangagwa’s government of the impending job action if teachers’ demands are not met.
“If government is not going to review our salaries by June 3, we are going to withdraw our service because the cost of living is high and teachers are suffering, so if they don’t do anything, we will have to stop offering our service because the working conditions are unfair,” Masaraure said.
Zhou echoed similar sentiments, saying government had to work on improving their employees’ welfare through addressing grievances and giving them an audience whenever they approached responsible offices.
“Our position is very clear, that the onus is on government to capacitate teachers so that they can go to work. Without that, teachers will stop working because there is no other way out. We sought audience with the Labour minister, Dr Sekai Nzenza, who professed ignorance of the code of conduct expected of her,” he said.
“We have also written to President Mnangagwa, giving him about two weeks to respond. In the event that the two fail to meet our needs, we will down tools pending action”
In a letter to the director of Civil Service Commission on Friday, Artuz demanded that its members be paid in US dollars.
It also challenged government to review the rural allowance, which currently stands at ZWL$13.
The Zimbabwe Hospital Doctors Association has also written to their employer, the Health Services Board (HSB), over unfulfilled promises dating back to January.
In a letter dated May 10, the doctors notified the HSB of the worsening conditions of service in health institutions.
“We write on behalf of doctors who are currently serving in government hospitals in Zimbabwe,” part of the letter read.
“The letter serves to alert you of the growing dissent and discontent from doctors regarding conditions of service in the hospitals. We, hereby, inform the Health Services Board the major concerns that have generated this discontent.”
The doctors raised several issues, among them salary and allowances, duty-free vehicle loan scheme, lack of protective clothing in hospitals as the basis of their disgruntlement.
They also cited the HSB’s continued negligence of the bipartite negotiating panel as the reason why they are plotting another strike.
“We, hereby, call upon the HSB to abandon its practices of deliberately delaying and postponing the bipartite meetings, which are the only legal fora through which workers can register their displeasure regarding the conditions of service,” the doctors said.
“We further state that we intend to utilise this legal forum to table our demands with a view of pursuing other necessary procedures should the HSB fail to address our challenges as stated above.”
Since January, tension has been growing between government and its employees in the health and education sectors over salaries and work conditions.
Doctors downed tools for close to 40 days in December and teachers followed suit in February citing poor remuneration and working conditions.
Mnangagwa’s administration has been under pressure from the restive workers due to the deteriorating cost of living that has rocked his government that came into power in November 2017 after the fall of former president Robert Mugabe through a coup.