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Zimbabwe's govt workers stay home as wages evaporate

The country is in the grip of a major downturn that has provoked biting shortages of fuel, medicine, and currency as well as hyperinflation which has seen many families living on a single meal a day.

FILE: A picture shows empty shelves, including those for bread, in a grocery store in Harare on 9 October 2018, as Zimbabwe is experiencing renewed shortages. Picture: AFP

HARARE - Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwe government workers can no longer afford to report for duty, their union said Tuesday, as the country's grinding economic crisis sends inflation soaring and renders their wages almost worthless.

The country is in the grip of a major downturn that has provoked biting shortages of fuel, medicine, and currency as well as hyperinflation which has seen many families living on a single meal a day.

Zimbabwe's main public service union said the crisis was now preventing 300,000 government employees - a broad spectrum of workers from cleaners to office staff and teachers - from travelling to their jobs.

Their decision comes weeks after hundreds of doctors at government hospitals stopped going to the wards, saying they could no longer afford the daily commute to work after their salaries shrunk more than 15-fold over the past year.

"Our salaries have been eroded from an average of US$500 in 2018 to only US$40 which is declining everyday," said Cecilia Alexander chairwoman of the Apex Council, the umbrella union representing most public sector workers outside the uniformed forces.

She told reporters the union had issued a notice to government saying the staff were unable to go to work.

The union has not characterised the move as a strike - but said the wage issue had rendered attendance impossible.

It urged workers to refrain from resorting to borrowing money or walk to work if they cannot afford to pay for transportation.

"It's not your duty to subsidise the employer," the union said.

The move adds more pressure on President Emmerson Mnangagwa after doctors - on strike for more than a month - this week defied a court order to return to work, saying a 60% pay rise offered by government failed to meet their everyday expenses.

Mnangagwa had promised to woo back investors, generate growth and lift Zimbabwe from a cycle of economic hardship and mismanagement, a legacy of ex-president Robert Mugabe, who died in September.

But Zimbabwe's economy has continued to sink deep into crisis.

The national statistics agency on Tuesday said annual inflation last month accelerated to 290%, with shop prices rising daily.

Fuel and electricity prices have also rocketed by more than 400% since the start of the year amid crippling power shortages which have plunged parts of the country into darkness for up to 18 hours as the economy lurches deeper into crisis.

Nurses at two of the country's largest government hospitals in Harare last week reduced their working days from five to two, their association said.

On Monday, rural teachers also embarked on strike action with a stay-at-home protest "against underpayment".

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