(2010-05-05) The threat of a general strike hangs over Tanzania, as the country prepares to host the World Economic Forum on Africa.
The Trade Union Congress of Tanzania (TUCTA) has called for an indefinite general strike, in pursuit of an increase in the statutory minimum wage, beginning on Wednesday – precisely when the World Economic Forum Conference is due to begin.
The call for a nationwide strike came on Saturday, at a TUCTA May Day rally in Dar es Salaam. It was immediately met by a threat from employers that any worker who heeded the strike call would be sacked.
On Monday President Jakaya Kikwete threw his weight behind the employers, backing up the threat of mass sackings. For Kikwete, the strike call was illegitimate because the trade unions were still in negotiations with the government.
The key TUCTA demand is for a minimum wage of 315,000 shillings (about 230 US dollars) a month. Kikwete said the unions had earlier agreed that this was impossibly high – but performed a volte-face at the May Day rally. The existing minimum wages range from a derisory 65,000 shillings a month for hotel workers to 350,000 shillings a month in the mineral sector.
Kikwete said that if the unions expected him to succumb to their demands just because he wanted their members' votes in the presidential election scheduled for October, they were much mistaken. He described the proposed strike as illegal, and called TUCTA leaders “liars and hypocrites”.
Speaking to a meeting of elders from the Dar es Salaam region, Kikwete claimed the union leaders were “two-faced” and had not been telling the truth to union member. “They have been involved in negotiations at all levels, yet they create the impression that no negotiations have taken place”.
Anyone who did go on strike would lose their jobs, he threatened, “and they will not be pardoned”.
The government budget could not meet the demand for 315,000 shillings a month for public sector workers. “We are not ready to give you that amount of money, even if you go on strike for eight years said Kikwete. “we don't have that capability”.
He claimed the minimum wage demand would cost the government 6.952 trillion shillings, but total government domestic revenue in 2010 is only expected to reach 5.773 trillion shillings.
“We need this money for other social services like water, electricity, education and infrastructure”, said Kikwete. “If we use all of it for workers' salaries, how are we going to fund other equally important activities?”
The TUCTA acing secretary general, Nicholas Mgaya, struck back immediately, describing Kikwete as “a man of threats who attempts to embrace dictatorship and not democratic ways of governance”.
He rejected suggestions that a hidden hand was behind the strike call, and insisted that the demand for a 315,000 shilling minimum wage was in the interest of Tanzanian workers.
“I'm doing what the Tanzanian workers have sent me to do”, Mgaya said. “I was elected by nearly 500,000 workers and there is no-one who can use me except the worker s. I did not impose myself into this position, but I won an election, just as he (Kikwete) was elected”.