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Labour union braces for fresh anti-government protests
Edith Kaseke, ZimOnline
April 02, 2007

HARARE - The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) has called for a stay away tomorrow in the face of a growing economic crisis, once more pitting itself for clashes with President Robert Mugabe's government and likely to heighten political tensions.

Mugabe has been under growing international pressure over the past month over a brutal campaign to crush an emboldened opposition, which has drawn sharp criticism from his Western critics, some who have threatened to stiffen sanctions on his government.

The veteran leader, now 83, and in power since independence from Britain in 1980, has the soli dbacking of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) leaders, who last week urged Western governments to lift sanctions on Harare.

But at home, tensions are rising fast as the majority of people fail to cope with hyperinflation of nearly 2 000 percent, and with eight in every 10 Zimbabweans out of employment, anger is growing.

"We are saying the worker can no longer cope and the government has chosen to ignore our demands . . . so we have agreed that the stay away will go ahead on Tuesday and Wednesday," ZCTU leader Lovemore Matombo said yesterday.

The ZCTU has in the past staged crippling job boycotts, but of late calls for strikes have received muted response from workers.

Analysts said this was mainly a result of government intimidation and workers' fears of losing their jobs in a country that has an 80 percent unemployment rate.

Labour and Social Welfare Minister Nicholas Goche yesterday made an unprecedented move to write a lengthy column in the government-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper urging workers to resist the stay away call.

"The foregoing demonstrates that the individuals in the ZCTU are calling for stayaways to further a political agenda. These are the same individuals who pay lip service to the tripartite social dialogue," Goche said.

"All workers are, therefore, being urged to ignore the call and report for work as usual. Employers are free to deal with the workers who choose to deliberately stay away from work," he added.

Economic analysts said the government feared that any disruption to industry would further worsen an already dire economic crisis.

The ZCTU said it wanted the government and business to sign the Kadoma Declaration, a document that was agreed by the two parties, together with labour, ensuring that the minimum wage was linked to the poverty datum line. The workers also want Mugabe's government to resolve the economic crisis.

"The government is worried and I think rightly so, that the country can hardly afford further disruptions in the economy," private economic consultant John Robertson said. "This (stayaway) is bad news for the tripartite negotiating forum because it further worsens the deep mistrust that already exists between the three groups," he added.

Mugabe has branded the ZCTU a front of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which he also says is being funded by the West to remove him from power.

Police in September last year stopped a planned peaceful march by the ZCTU and arrested its leadership and some workers, beating them and severely injuring them in custody.

The police have intensified their crackdown on the opposition and last month thwarted an opposition rally in Highfield, arresting and savagely beating several opposition activists in a move which was condemned by the international community.

Matombo yesterday acknowledged the possibility of a violent backlash from the security forces, and said the workers would not march in the streets this time around, but just stay at home. He however said the ZCTU would be embarking on work boycotts every three months until the government meets their demands.

Mugabe, desperate to keep a tight lid on discontent and fearing the opposition would use protests and rallies to launch a spirited bid to oust him, had banned the protests and rallies in Harare 's volatile townships. - ZimOnline

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