ZIMBABWE'S civil servants are up in arms against the government for selectively awarding hefty pay rises to the military while excluding the rest of its workers who are earning salaries that are far below the poverty datum line.
Union leaders threatened industrial action if their members are not awarded salary increases similar to those received by soldiers. President Robert Mugabe' bankrupt government this month awarded hefty pay increases to disgruntled soldiers in an apparent move to buy their loyalty ahead of crucial joint elections on March 29.
A survey by New Zimbabwe.com showed that soldiers got windfalls of between $1 billion and $3 billion in salaries depending on the rank this month, while teachers got $500 million on average, with other government workers getting much less.
The government which employees all civil servants is also responsible for paying the salaries of soldiers, police officers and Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) operatives through its various employment commissions.
Government sources say CIO agents who did not receive the windfalls that were received by soldiers this February are bitter and have sent a delegation to approach CIO director general Happiton Bonyongwe with their grievances.
Bonyongwe has been linked with Zanu PF factional fighting, with strong suggestions he is associated with former finance minister Simba Makoni who has launched a bid for the country's presidency.
It is believed that Mugabe now prefers working with Bonyongwe's deputies and trusted army brigadiers on all matters of state security. Bonyongwe, Finance Minister Samuel Mumbengegwi and Rtd Major Kudzai Mbudzi, one of Makoni's top advisers, are all married to sisters.
The leader of the pro-government Zimbabwe Teachers Association (ZIMTA) Tendai Chikowore warned that teachers will embark on a full-scale industrial action if the government does not urgently undertake to review their salaries in line with what was awarded to soldiers.
Chikowore said: "Our members are now very impatient. We are consulting all provinces this week and I must say we are under pressure to call for industrial action.
"Our members now suspect that the employer is deliberately choosing to underpay teachers while other government employees are smiling all the way to the bank every month."
ZIMTA which is now threatening to go on strike has in the past distanced itself from strike action spearheaded by its rival, the PTUZ, claiming it prefers negotiating.
The militant Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) accuses the Zanu PF government of being "insensitive and discriminatory" by giving soldiers hefty salaries while "impoverished teachers and other civil servants get peanuts every month."
PTUZ secretary general Raymond Majongwe said President Robert Mugabe's government was using salaries as an electioneering tool to buy the loyalty of other employees and punishing others.
Majongwe said: "What is happening in the public service is very sad. We have a situation were Mugabe is giving soldiers a lot of money ahead of everyone else as a way of buying their allegiance in the event that the forthcoming elections are disputed."
He added: "We are aware that Mugabe is planning to rig the elections in March because he must win at all costs. On the other hand he believes that teachers do not deserve salaries because they are agents of regime change. That is ridiculous."
Majongwe who was hospitalised last Tuesday after he was brutally assaulted by Zanu PF youth militias in Harare said it was "tragic" that teachers were being viewed and treated like enemies of the state by the government. He said he hoped leaders of other public service workers unions would soon see the light and join the PTUZ call for confrontation with the government.
Public Service Association (PSA) boss Cecilia Alexander-Khowa said members of her association were bitter after being sidelined in the pay review.
Khowa said: "Our members are very bitter because they are saying the employer is showing favouritism when dealing with the employees. We under extreme pressure to reach an agreement with government and the issue requires urgent attention."
She added: "We are members of the same family and for the past 28 or so years we have always been treated the same with the uniformed forces. We can not rule out anything because government employees are very angry to say the least."
The PSA represents the rest of the government employees outside the uniformed forces and teachers. Teachers are now pushing for a gross salary of $1.7 billion from $520 million given earlier this month. PTUZ officials have justified the new salary demands by teachers saying they believe these demands are reasonable in the context of the current hyperinflationary environment and the escalating cost of living.
Nurses, doctors and other professionals are leaving Zimbabwe in large numbers in search of better paying jobs in Botswana, South Africa, Britain, Australia and the United States among other countries.