Schools deserted in Zimbabwe
Harare - Public schools in Zimbabwe's capital were deserted on Tuesday, the second day of a strike by civil servants demanding a doubling of basic wages and better work conditions.
An AFP correspondent visiting government schools around Harare found only a few staffers and some senior pupils milling around, as more teachers heeded a call by the main state workers union for a five-day strike.
"We were just hoping there might be lessons but the teachers did not come to class today," one boy returning home from high school told AFP.
At other schools, pupils did not even bother to turn up after they were told on Monday there would be no classes until the end of the week.
But at government departments, work went on as usual with people queuing up and being served.
Unions called for a five-day stayaway this week, after a similar call for a one-day strike was largely ignored last Thursday.
Tendai Chikowore, spokesperson for the umbrella union, said the workers want across-the-board pay rises including a raise from $200 to $538 a month for the lowest-paid government workers, medical insurance and an allowance for workers based in rural areas.
Civil servants, particularly teachers, nurses and doctors, have been striking on and off for better salaries since 2007.
The situation came to a head in 2008, when staff shortages forced state hospitals to close some units and teacher strikes left only 50 days of classes in the whole year.
Zimbabwe's economy has begun recovering after a decade-long downturn, following a power-sharing agreement by long-time rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in the wake of failed 2008 polls.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti says about one-third of the 230 000 workers on the government payroll don't actually exist, meaning corrupt employees are siphoning off salaries.
Biti, a Tsvangirai ally, has insisted the cash-strapped government cannot afford to pay higher salaries.
Mugabe has accused the minister of deliberately sabotaging the government by refusing the increases.