Rural teachers join Apex Council strike

HARARE - Rural teachers have called off a strike in its fifth day after resolving to join the collective Apex Council industrial action on Monday.

The Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Artuz) announced that it has suspended industrial action which had been ongoing since Monday, following vigorous, passionate and thoughtful debate about joining the larger Apex Council strike.

This comes as the Apex Council — umbrella body for all civil servants unions  — convened an emergency meeting in Harare yesterday and resolved that members and stakeholders sit-in with immediate effect in anticipation of the outcome of the Monday meeting with Labour minister Prisca Mupfumira and Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa.

According to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency, government employs 300 000 workers, a number which does not include the army, air force, police and prisons.

News of the impending Apex Council strike had shaken the Labour minister, who urged the civil servants to call off the industrial action permanently to hear what government was promising on Monday.

“Government has received news of a threat to embark on an industrial action by the civil servants Apex Council over the non-payment of bonuses with surprise,” she said. “Government remains committed to honouring the payment of bonuses as announced by  . . . President R.G Mugabe.”

Artuz — which is a member of the Apex Council — said the outcome of the Monday meeting with ministers shall determine the next course of action.

“We have also notified the police of our impending actions. We wish therefore to advise that we will be no longer converging in Harare Gardens as have been previously proposed,” Artuz said in a statement.

The rural teachers had poured scorn on attempts by government to impose stands as bonus payment at a time unions have programmes that are underway to provide stands for civil servants.

“Artuz thus calls off its weeklong strike action to concentrate its energies and resources towards the collective Apex Council position,” Artuz said in a statement yesterday.

“Artuz welcomes this principled and uniting position which comes as unions and unionism are under attack from minister . . . Mupfumira.

“The overzealous Mupfumira has embarked on a bogus process to undermine the collective position of workers on 2016 bonus payments. All workers are demanding cash for their bonus,” the rural teachers union said.

The Artuz’s strike nationwide with a main rally in rural areas was a test of how much support the union can muster over bonus curbs they say undermine the public service and purchasing power generally to the detriment of the economy.

The protests came after Mupfumira said she was conducting a survey to ascertain the number of civil servants who wanted stands and those who wanted cash.

Artuz secretary-general Robson Chere described this as “hypocrisy of sickening magnitude”.

“We are fully aware that the stands offer is a means to cunningly and systematically withdraw bonuses and burden civil servants with debt,” he said, adding it was a sly move to hide behind the guise of negotiations to buy time.

The stone-broke government has told civil servants that they could only offer them three options in lieu of bonus in cash: the distribution of serviced stands where government pays 50 percent of the bonus in the form of land and the other half paid in staggered cash payments.

Government is also offering payment of bonuses in the form of a dividend where, instead of paying the workers directly, the cash will be invested in money-market instruments which will presumably yield a return down the line, an offer flatly rejected by government workers.

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