Unions vow to act as poverty grows in Zimbabwe
The country's largest labour federation, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), says price hikes have left workers at breaking point and ready to launch protests and strikes.
The price of bread leapt 59% on Monday, taking it from $2.20 to $3.50, and ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo said workers' salaries were no longer enough to sustain them.
"The workers have every reason to be agitated as they earn peanuts, which are being eroded daily. The ZCTU is now pushing for a national minimum wage of $600 per month, or the equivalent in RTGS [real time gross settlement] dollars at the prevailing rate," said Moyo.
"We are yet to get a response, but the government seems to be ... pretending that everything is under control and the situation is being exaggerated by its detractors. They are not agreeing that we are facing probably an economic recession. They are still talking of an economy on the rebound that is going to be registering growth."
The latest price increases are being driven by the growing gap in the exchange rate between the US dollar and the RTGSdollar.
Many businesses obtain US dollars on the black market, where soaring demand has pushed the rate to $1:RTGS $4.85, according to the ZimBollar website. The official rate on an interbank market that began operating in February fell to a record low of $1:$3.1878.
Most banks are unwilling to part with their US dollars, which Zimbabwe's central bank insists are to be sold on "a willing buyer, willing seller basis".
Rising prices are also wreaking economic havoc, with inflation now at 66.8%. The cost of living, measured for a low-income urban family of six by the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, increased by 1.21%, from $781.35 in February to $791 last month.
Economic analyst Victor Bhoroma said hyperinflation had wiped out most citizens' disposable incomes. "Generally, the cost of living has skyrocketed and it is relegating most citizens to poverty," he said.
"Many will slide into poverty or extreme poverty. Basic needs such as health, shelter, food and education are being pushed beyond the reach of many, especially those in drought-prone and marginalised rural areas," said Bhoroma.Ricky Mukonza, a senior lecturer at Tshwane University of Technology in SA, said a "winter of discontent" loomed for the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, which recently gave public servants salary increases of between 13% and 29%.Raymond Majongwe, the secretary of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said the increase was "just too little and too late" and suggested further strained relations between the government and its employees."We are surely headed for a collision course with the government, which is treating its workers unfairly. Commodities have gone up fourfold in one month. We can't pretend that all is well. The demand for US-dollar salaries is now justified," he said."We will not do what we did last time when teachers turned around and started blaming the unions for selling out. We are now going to be united because of the poverty, suffering and deprivation. People are simply now not going to be able to buy food, pay rent and school fees for their children."