IMF places Malawi on probation Blantyre 23 June 2004 13:19 The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is giving Malawi three months to improve its finances beforeMessage 1 of 1046 , Jun 23, 2004View SourceIMF places Malawi on probation
23 June 2004 13:19
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is giving Malawi three months to improve its finances before it will resume talks on fresh aid, the poor southern African country's finance minister said on Wednesday.
"The IMF wants to see if the new government can establish a new track record," Goodall Gondwe told the daily Nation.
A former top IMF official himself, Gondwe said however a team from the international lender would return to Malawi next month to "help us implement the three month programme" which would end in September.
The fund's representative, Michael Nowak said the country's finances "are not in good shape and needed to be strengthened," as the talks ended with Malawian officials.
The IMF visited Malawi in early June following the election to office of President Bingu wa Mutharika and his government, saying it was ready help improve finances as a step towards resuming aid, suspended two years ago.
The IMF said in a statement it was "committed to helping the new government achieve macro-economic stabilisation, sustainable growth and poverty reduction by fleshing out a strong adjustment and reform programme".
Mutharika had also asked the IMF to return for further talks. More than $75-million (61-million euros) in aid were suspended in 2002 by the IMF and donor countries because of concern about overspending by former President Bakili Muluzi's administration, who handed over power to his chosen successor Mutharika.
Mutharika, who won the country's third free elections since 1994, has promised to carry out wide-ranging economic reforms to win back donor confidence and turn around the sluggish economy.
Malawi is being battered by a national deficit of $600-million and a foreign debt of $2,9-billion.
Donors such as Britain and the European Union have said they will release aid only if the IMF gives its approval to the reform policies.
Wedged between Mozambique and Zambia, Malawi is one of the world's poorest nations with the majority of its 11,3-million-strong population living on less than a dollar a day.
The former British colony is also one of the hardest-hit by the Aids crisis, which has brought life expectancy down to 36 years. - Sapa-AFP
Traditional Leaders Declare War Against Child Labour
Malawi Standard (Blantyre)
June 23, 2004
Posted to the web June 23, 2004
A combination of poverty and outdated cultural practices have dashed the dreams of young boys and girls, who are forced to drop out of school and seek manual labour in tobacco estates of Northern and Central Regions.
Irked by this state of affairs, traditional leaders in these regions have ordered parents to ensure that all children leave tobacco estates and go back to school.
One of the chiefs, who is in the forefront of encouraging children to quit manual labour in tobacco estates is Chief Mpherembe of Mzimba. The traditional leader says it is a mockery of free primary education to let children work in estates and farms, when they can attain primary education at no cost.
"I am annoyed to learn that some parents are forcing their children to work in estates and in some instances forcing them to get married, when we have schools around us," says Chief Mpherembe.
Ministry of Labour community facilitator Chanky Mkandawire says the traditional leaders are justified to press for an end to child labour. She says child-labour has many disadvantages including creating a vicious circle of poverty through illiteracy.
Mkandawire says over 2000 children are working in estates in northern Malawi.
Meanwhile the Malawi Entrepreneurs Development Institute (MEDI) with funding from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is organising seminars sensitising members of the public the evils of hiring child labour.
MEDI Chief Executive Charles Kazembe says the seminars and training sessions are aimed at wiping out child labour in tea growing areas.
"We are training parents and guardians with the aim of equipping them with entrepreneurial skills so that they will be able to do small businesses and send their children to school, not to work.
"In fact some parents have been begging estate owners to employ their children due to poverty and as a result, infringed their right to education," he explained at a meeting held at Mpherembe Trading Centre in Mzimba.
Currently the International Labour Organisation (ILO) is implementing an anti-child labour programme aimed at discouraging tobacco farmers from using child labour.
Kazembe said in an interview that the country's tenant system on tobacco farms was perpetuating poverty because children were denied an education by having to work on farms.
"Under the tenant farm system, a tenant moves onto a farm and arranges with the landlord of that farm that he will produce tobacco with his own labour. Now that means he has to use his own family including his children to achieve his objective. The land owner has nothing to do with this because he says, its not his business," he said.
Recent research by the ILO revealed that children between the ages of five to 16 years are involved in weeding and harvesting of the tobacco crop.
This is despite the fact that Malawi offers free primary education to its children.
Following an international outcry last year over child labour, the local tobacco industry got into action after threats of trade sanctions promised to cripple commercial agriculture in the country.
Tobacco provides 70 percent of Malawi's foreign exchange earnings.
The Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA) has spearheaded the creation of the Elimination of Child Labour Association following threats by international tobacco buyers to lobby for a blanket ban unless authorities took steps.
According to Kazembe the war against child labour can only be won if alternatives to the vice is found. He says MEDI with the funding from ILO offers parents some entrepreneurial training apart from ongoing advocacy and awareness raising to empower them.
The areas of focus included increased access to schools for the children, and helping parents acquire micro credit.
"Although the focus is on tobacco, the programme will cover other activities in sectors which employ children in hazardous work to avoid children simply moving from commercial agriculture to other probably more hazardous work," he said.
The number of children engaged in labour, according to official government statistics, was slightly over 100,000.
Under the employment act of 2000, the minimum age of employment is 14 years, and those found breaking the law can be jailed for up to five years.
Civil Society Wants Recall Provision
Malawi Standard (Blantyre)
June 23, 2004
Posted to the web June 23, 2004
The civil society in Malawi is demanding to have the Recall provision in the republican constitution back saying Members of Parliament take the electorate for a ride and it is a must that they be accountable to the people who voted them into power.
Director of Church and Society Programme of the Synod of Livingstonia in the Northern Region city of Mzuzu, Moses Mkandawire whose organisation conducted a research on the recall provision in 2001 told The Malawi Standard that he was mobilising other members of the civil society to push for re-introduction of section 64 of the constitution, so that every Member of Parliament be accountable to his or her constituents.
"The recall provision was repealed in 1995 and Members of Parliament (MPs) were very fast in removing this provision because it affected them directly.
"Legally we feel it is extremely important that the recall provision be brought back to empower the masses to remove their Members of Parliament if he or she is not delivering and not wait for an election in five years hence the constitution should advance this power to the people," said Mkandawire.
Church and Society of the Livingstonia synod conducted a research in 2001 and discovered that while the masses wanted the recall provision back; most Members of Parliament were so jittery about the issue.
Of course some MPs like Dr Hetherwick Ntaba, Paul Maulidi and a few others welcomed the idea, but basically most of the MPs indicated that they were not ready to support the recall provision, said Mkandawire.
"For purposes of accountability, sustenance and consolidation of democracy, we need the recall provision back," said Mkandawire.
He said it is also important that Members of Parliament be given proper job description so that even when the recall provision is back, it should not be abused.
"The role of an MP is not buying coffins but to make laws in Parliament, debating on the national budget and monitor the implementation itself.
"An MP is there to provide checks and balances on the Executive branch of government. So if one fulfils these obligations, there should be no fear that the recall provisions will be abused," said Mkandawire.
In a separate interview, Malawi Congress Party (MCP) President John Tembo, who is a seasoned Member of Parliament, said he has no problem in bringing the recall provision back provided it will not be abused.
He said some people might use the provision to unjustifiably pull down some Members of Parliament who they don't like for their own personal reasons.
Parliament is scheduled to meet in September for the budget session and it remains to be seen whether the civil society will be successful in lobbying Members of Parliament to bring the recall provision as a private member's motion.
34,000 Quit Tobacco Farming as 'Poor Prices, Cross-Border Sales Affect Production'
Malawi Standard (Blantyre)
June 23, 2004
Posted to the web June 23, 2004
Poor tobacco prices and the World Health Organisation's (WHO) anti-smoking campaign have forced about 34,434 Malawian growers out of tobacco farming, The Malawi Standard has learnt.
Tobacco Association of Malawi (TAMA) lobby for better tobacco prices at the Auction Floors has not effectively influenced the growers to revert to tobacco growing with many of them opting for other businesses such as selling second hand clothes just to have enough for their survival.
Tobacco Control Commission (TCC) confirmed that for the past four years tobacco production has drastically gone down.
The Commission's General Manager Dr. Godfrey Chapola disclosed that there are 133, 871 registered tobacco growers that use about 82, 482 estates growing different types of tobacco and 51, 389 clubs that largely grow burley.
He revealed that only 27, 403 estates and 51, 389 clubs are actively growing the embattled 'green gold' at the moment.
"In the past five years, the number of active estate growers has declined from 61, 837 in 2000 to 27,403 in 2004," he said.
He noted that as the number of growers in the estate sub-sector declined in the past five years, quantities produced in the last ten years for flue-cured tobacco also dwindled from 21, 000 tonnes in 1994 to 8,000 in 2001 and dramatically increased to 19, 800 tonnes in 2004.
"For burley, total quantities produced have fluctuated between 71, 000 tonnes and 142,000 tonnes depending on prices. Dark fired tobacco has had a similar pattern although production plunged in 2001 from an average of 6,500 tonnes to 905 tonnes," he said.
Chapola projected that dark fired tobacco is likely to crash again in the next season.
He observed that the depreciation of the local currency has negatively affected leaf prices at the Auction Floors in the last decade.
According to the Commission, the grower take home margin has been declining due to an ever-increasing cost of production and marketing.
The Commission estimates that the country will produce 148,000 tonnes of tobacco composed of 122,300 tonnes of burley, 19, 800 tonnes of Virginia flue cured, 5,500 tonnes of dark fired cured and 900 tonnes Southern dark fire cured in the next season.
"Buyer intentions for Malawi tobacco are 140, 00 tonnes of burley, 20, 000 tonnes Virginia flue cured, 6,000 tonnes dark fired and 1000 tonnes Southern Dark fired tobacco," said Chapola.
Dark fired tobacco will decline to 2000 tonnes unless the prices improve significantly, the Commission has warned.
About 68 countries patronise the Malawi tobacco industry, according to the Tobacco Association of Malawi.
Average tobacco prices have generally declined in the past ten years which also contributed to large estates like the formerly Kasungu Flue Cured Tobacco Authority (KFCTA) being in huge debts that finally forced them to close down.
However, according to TCC, there is hope that the production of burley tobacco may increase or possibly remain at 125,000 tonnes in the immediate future depending on better prices at the auction floors.
Former State President Bakili Muluzi, himself a tobacco farmer in Machinga district, recently said that the price dwindling may have been as a result of a decline in the quality of the leaf.
"The buyer depends on the grower and the grower depends on the buyer," he told stakeholders at last year's tobacco sales official opening ceremony in Blantyre.
The country's tobacco prices have also been affected by the cross-border sales, which has been practiced openly since 1997.
This has also had a negative impact on the country's economy as the nation can hardly collect the much-needed levies normally deducted from the auction floors.
President Bingu wa Mutharika says the only way Malawi's economy could be saved is by finding alternatives to tobacco growing. He cites cotton as the immediate and lucrative solution.
MPs Irk Donors
Malawi Standard (Blantyre)
June 23, 2004
Posted to the web June 23, 2004
The donor community is irked with the proposal by Members of Parliament to have their salaries increased by over 300 percent, saying there is no justification and it is irresponsible.
Donors confided to the Malawi Standard last Friday night that MP's demands might place Malawi in an awkward position in terms of negotiating for the resumption of the donor funding.
"What is the justification for such a salary raise and how do they relate it with salaries of civil servants?" charged a member of the donor community who did not want to be named.
He said it seems that in Malawi people go into politics to make money and not necessarily to serve the people, which she described as unfortunate.
"It does not work like that in established democracies. You cannot be voted into power and the first thing you do is to demand 300 percent salary increase," said the donor.
MPs get K101, 000 per month plus K6000 a day as an allowance when parliament is sitting.
Members of Parliament in Malawi have a history of forgetting their differences in the chamber when it comes to increasing their perks.
If the proposal to increase their salaries by 300 percent will pass, each member will be getting more than K300,000 when a junior civil servant gets less than K5,000.
IMF approves Mozambique $16m loan
The International Monetary Fund is loaning Mozambique $16.6m (£9.2m) to support its budget till 2006.
The Washington-based Fund said Mozambique's economic performance has been "favourable", even though inflation increased to 13.8% in 2003.
"The authorities remain committed to strengthening the financial system," said deputy IMF head Takatoshi Kato.
Mozambique is trying to become an investment destination despite having been one of the world's poorest states.
The first, $2.4m tranche of the new money is due to be paid once the World Bank conducts a survey of poverty reduction efforts in early July.
Mozambique transforms its economy
According to Mr Kato, the country's anti-poverty strategy is having an effect, with the number of people living below the poverty line down from almost 70% in 1996 to 54% in 2002.
Meanwhile, the government is now striving to cut its budget deficit by slimming down the civil service - a process which Mr Kato said should free up resources for anti-poverty priorities.
The government is likely to meet its target of 7% GDP growth in 2003, says the Fund.
For 2004, GDP growth of over 8% is expected.
Rising prices remains a concern for the IMF, however.
Mozambique's economy is closely tied to that of South Africa, with many Mozambicans employed in its neighbour's mining industry.
A sharp rise in the value of the South African rand in recent months has helped fuel inflation in Mozambique, and the Fund is now advising the government in Maputo to cut back on interventions in the foreign exchange market.
It also wants public sector wages kept under control.
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17 The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal byMessage 1046 of 1046 , May 22, 2006View Source
ADB firm on Karonga-Chitipa road contract
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:09:17
The African Development Bank (ADB) has again rejected a proposal by government to look for another contractor instead of China Hunan Construction to construct of the long awaited Karonga/Chitipa road.
China Hunan from Mainland China won the bid which was approved by the ADB but government later wanted to award the contract to a Portuguese firm, Mota Engil, the second lowest bidder, claiming China Hunan's bid was unrealistically low and that the company had very little experience in Africa.
Finance Minister Goodall Gondwe confirmed on Sunday the ADB rejected the proposal at a meeting held between the bank and Malawi government in Tunisia last week.
The Malawi government wanted the Tunisia meeting to authorise it to get another contractor for the road, said Gondwe.
"They did not allow us to look for another contractor because of their regulations. But we are about to get another alternative for Karonga/Chitipa and I would be surprised if it does not start before end June," said Gondwe.
The minister explained that the bank insisted that regardless of the unrealistic cost estimates, China Hunan should be allowed to go ahead with the construction.
But Gondwe could not give further details about the alternatives, arguing there are still a few loose ends to tighten up before disclosing it.
The problem with China Hunan, according to Gondwe, is that it would require more money to meet the total cost of the project.
This paper reported last week that government met Taiwanese representatives where they offered to fund the road if the ADB continued to reject its favoured contractor, Mota Engil.
Gondwe could neither confirm nor deny the reports on the Taiwanese offer, saying government was looking at a number of ways to handle the issue.
According to Gondwe, the China Hunan's bid was 24 percent lower than the consulting engineers' estimates of K7.9 billion and 34 percent below the second lowest bidder.
President Bingu wa Mutharika laid a foundation stone for the construction of the road this year ahead of a crucial byelection in Chitipa in December last year.
The President's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won the Chitipa Wenya constituency by-election that fell vacant following the collapse and subsequent death of Speaker of Parliament Rodwell Munyenyembe who belonged to the UDF.
Last week, police and the District Commissioner (DC) for Chitipa stopped a rally that was aimed at soliciting people's views about development projects in the district.
The meeting, which was reportedly organised by Concerned Citizens of Chitipa, was among other things also supposed to tackle the controversial Karonga/Chitipa road.
The project failed to start off in 2000 when a contract for an initial loan of US$17 million and US$15 million from the Taiwanese government was signed, with some quarters claiming the Bakili Muluzi administration diverted the money to another road.
Chihana operated on
by Edwin Nyirongo, 22 May 2006 - 06:32:31
Alliance for Democracy (Aford) president Chakufwa Chihana, who is in South Africa receiving treatment, had a brain operation on Friday at Garden City Clinic, family and party officials confirmed on Sunday.
Aford national chairman Chipimpha Mughogho said he was told by the family members that Chihana had a successful operation on Friday and was put in an intensive care unit.
Mughogho said Chihana, who initially complained of headache, was found with a brain tumour which South African doctors removed.
Mzimba West MP Loveness Gondwe said Aford boss condition was stable.
"Hon. Chihana had a major operation and after that he was put in the intensive care unit but his condition is stable. I do not know where he was operated on but it had something to do with the skull," she said.
Deputy Information Minister John Bande referred the matter to the Health Minister Hetherwick Ntaba who was reported to be in Geneva, Switzerland.
Aford publicity secretary Norman Nyirenda said when Chihana's situation got worse, the family alerted the Office of the President and Cabinet who took him to Mwaiwathu Private Hospital.
"The doctors at Mwaiwathu advised that he should be sent to South Africa and they even identified the doctor for him," he said.
He said the costs are being met by the Malawi government, contradicting his earlier statement that his boss covered the cost.
Mughogho is now in charge of the party.
Gondwe will be a busy person when Parliament starts meeting on June 6 as she is the only Aford MP remaining.
Pillane proposes presidential age limit
by Emmanuel Muwamba , 22 May 2006 - 06:34:13
A member of the DPP National Governing Council Abdul Pillane on Saturday urged members of political parties and the civil society to put an upper age limit in the Constitution for presidential candidates.
Pillane was addressing members of political parties and civil society in Liwonde during a two-day follow up workshop to the National Conference on the Review of Constitution held in March in Lilongwe.
"My view is that (an upper) age limit should be at 75. We have to give a chance to younger people to lead because in circumstance, when you age you become forgetful especially when sickly," said Pillane. "Overall, chances should be given to young people."
But UDF secretary general Kennedy Makwangwala, whose party members agitated for the age limit during presentations, played the issue down.
"I feel there is no logic to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates. If someone is 90 or 80 I don't know how that can influence the electorate not to vote for someone who is younger, I don't see any logic behind that," said Makwangwala.
MCP participants at the workshop also vehemently objected to the proposal.
MCP vice president Nicholas Dausi in an interview said: "There is no constitution in Africa which stipulates an upper age limit. So it would be strange in Malawi to have an upper age limit for presidential candidates."
MDP President Kamlepo Kalua also opposed the need to have an upper age limit.
"If we have personalities in mind that we want to discriminate against then it is unfortunate. The constitution we want to build is a guiding document for future generations and it should not bar certain individuals on the basis of grudges," he said.
The Malawi Law Constitution Issues Paper of March 2006 says several submissions that were received put an upper presidential age limit in the Constitution.
"It is argued that it is common sense that mental knowledge faculties tend to fail with age. As regards what the actual age limit should be the submissions are far from being agreed. The range is from 60 years to 80 years," read submissions in the Issues Paper.
On whether MPs should double as ministers, Kalua said this should be the case.
Makwangwala also said it is not right for MPs to serve as ministers because the Legislature, another arm of government, is reduced while the Executive branch is beefed up from another arm of government.
"There is no separation of powers when MPs double as ministers," said Makwangwala.
But Pillane said there is no problem for MPs to work as ministers as well, saying MPs are elected by the President.
"One can serve both posts. There have been no problems before for people to double," said Pillane.
The Centre for Multiparty Democracy funded the workshop through the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
The objective was to come up with a collective position on the Issues Paper which will be presented to the Special Law Commission that will be constituted soon.
Mussa hails new driving licence
by Zainah Liwanda, 22 May 2006 - 06:58:52
Transport and Public Works Minister Henry Mussa last week said the design of the Malawi-Sadc driving licence would guard against forgery and ensure that only skilled and legitimate drivers of particular vehicles are licensed.
Mussa was speaking at the official launch of the licences in Lilongwe where he announced that traffic police would from July enforce speed limits and sober driving using Breathalysers which his ministry is in the process of procuring.
The minister said financial constraints are the reason for the delay in procuring the equipment but assured that by July they would be available.
"With the new equipment, the days of those who believe in the thrill of drink and driving are numbered," warned Mussa.
Mussa added that with the new licence, government is optimistic that the country's roads would be safe.
Acting Director of Road Traffic James Chirwa said the features that distinguish the new from the old licences are the Malawi national flag and a ghost image of the driver's photograph, among others.
Those with old licences, according to Chirwa, are expected to get the new ones after the expiry of the former.
UDF demands investigation on Kasambara
by Rabecca Theu, 22 May 2006 - 06:30:46
The United Democratic Front (UDF) has asked government to investigate Ralph Kasambara on allegations of abuse of office while he was attorney general.
UDF publicity secretary Sam Mpasu told the press Sunday that the party is neither amused or saddened by the removal of the former AG but asked government to institute investigations on Kasambara.
"Beyond the removal of the Attorney General, we now urge President Mutharika to institute investigation against Mr Kasambara into allegations that have made rounds in the public domain during the recent past. These include: Mrs Helen Singh and SS Rent-a-Car; SGS and ITS saga; ...........the use of Malawi Police Service in the arrest of three Chronicle journalists and the handling of Mrs Rubina Kawonga," said Mpasu.
Mpasu also accused Kasambara of awarding government contracts to Lawson and Company where he was a senior partner.
"We urge government to thoroughly investigate the former AG. We also ask government to cautiously select the new AG ," said Mpasu, who was accompanied by the party's Secretary General Kennedy Makwangwala, leader of the party in Parliament George Mtafu, chief whip Leonard Mangulama and a member of the executive Hophmally Makande.
But Minister of Information Patricia Kaliati said UDF should give offer its advice to the Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB).
"They should advise bodies like the Anti-Corruption Bureau to conduct the investigations and why are they saying this now? Is it because Kasambara has been fired? This is not a personal issue. If they have other pressing issues they should just say so. These arguments should have come up earlier on when the said cases were happening," she said.
Kasambara asked UDF to proceed with the mission of urging government to investigate him.
"They can do their job. Everyone has a right to lobby for anything they want in the country. UDF has a right to do that, let them go ahead," he said.
Kasambara was relieved of his duties as AG by the President last week. Government has not given reasons behind the removal.
Zambia: Malawians Grab Zambian Land
The Times of Zambia (Ndola)
May 18, 2006
Posted to the web May 19, 2006
MALAWIANS who have encroached on both the 'no-man's' and part of the Zambian land at the Mwami border in Eastern Province have plucked out some beacons that were used in the demarcation of the border.
The Malawians are now using the beacons as stools in their newly-established villages on Zambian land.
Eastern Province Minister, Boniface Nkhata, said in Chipata yesterday that if the situation was not controlled urgently, Zambia would lose huge tracts of land to Malawians migrating into Zambian in large numbers.
A check at the Zambia-Malawi border showed a number of beacons had been vandalised and new structures constructed on the 'no man's' land and a large portion of Zambian land.
Mr Nkhata said the trend extended to many parts of the province bordering the two countries.
"A large portion of Zambian land has been taken up by the Malawians starting from the Chama boundary up to the Mwami border.
"The weighbridge at the Mwami border was initially in Zambia from the time both countries gained independence from Britain, but now the bridge is on Malawian soil," Mr Nkhata said.
The minister, who is former Chama District Commissioner, said there was similar encroachment in Lundazi and Chama districts where Zambia shares a boundary with Malawi.
He said a Malawian farmer identified as Mr Mfune had cultivated 71.5 hectares on Zambian land and employed about 265 Malawian workers.
"Khombe Farm in Chama district in Kanyerere's area, along the Muyombe road which leads to Northern Province where this Malawian farmer has cultivated a vast land is on the Zambian territory," he said.
Workers on the farm admitted that they were farming on Zambian soil but could not go back to Malawi because the land in that country was inadequate for cultivation.
Mr Nkhata appealed to the ministry of Lands to urgently release money for the demarcation of the Zambia-Malawi border to avoid further land disputes between the two countries.
Meanwhile, the Immigration Department in Livingstone has arrested a couple and another man, all Zimbabweans, for working in Zambia without permits.
They were arrested at Gwembe village yesterday where they worked for Into Africa, a tour operating company that provides bush dinners and breakfast.
According to the Immigration Department in Livingstone, the trio entered Zambia through the Victoria Falls border as visitors but decided to work for the company illegally.
Last week, immigration officers arrested 10 Zimbabwean traders and six Ethiopians for entering and staying in Zambia illegally.
The Zimbabwean traders were warned and cautioned and later released.
The Ethiopians were arrested at Konje Guest House when they ran out of money to proceed to Botswana.
Zim unions, MDC still plan anti-govt protests
22 May 2006 11:51
Zimbabwe's biggest labour federation on Saturday threatened to call massive demonstrations against the government over poor salaries and worsening living conditions for workers in the country.
The threats are ratcheting up pressure against President Robert Mugabe's government after similar threats by the biggest opposition party in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), about two months ago.
Speaking at the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) conference on Saturday, the labour body's president, Lovemore Matombo, said the powerful union wants the government to award workers salaries that match the country's ever-rising inflation.
"I can assure you we will stage massive demonstrations to force them [employers] to award workers minimum salaries that tally with the poverty datum line," said Matombo.
Matombo did not say when exactly the ZCTU would order workers to strike.
Meanwhile, the MDC on Sunday said it will push ahead with plans for anti-government protests, saying victory in a key by-election at the weekend was a "sign the electorate supported its policies", including democratic mass resistance.
A spokesperson of the main faction of the splintered MDC, Nelson Chamisa, said victory over Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF and a rival MDC faction in a Saturday by-election in Harare's Budiriro constituency is a sign Zimbabweans still have confidence in party leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his policies.
Tsvangirai, the founding leader of the MDC, heads the main rump of the opposition party whose candidate, Emmanuel Chisvuure, polled 7 949 votes to win the Budiriro House of Assembly seat.
Gabriel Chaibva of the other faction of the MDC, led by prominent academic Arthur Mutambara, garnered 504 votes while Zanu-PF's Jeremiah Bvirindi polled 3 961 votes.
"This election showed that the electorate still has confidence in the MDC [Tsvangirai-led] leadership and its policies," Chamisa told independent news service ZimOnline.
He added: "We will now move to consolidate our position * we still believe in mass protests. Until we have attained our goals we see no reason why we should abandon [plans for protests]."
Tsvangirai has threatened to call mass protests this winter against Mugabe and his government. He says the mass protests, whose date he is still to name, are meant to force Mugabe to relinquish power to a government of national unity to be tasked to write a new and democratic Constitution that would ensure free and fair elections held under international supervision.
Mugabe and his government, who had hoped for victory in Budiriro to show they were recapturing urban support from a splintered MDC, have not taken idly the opposition's threats to call mass protests, with the veteran president warning Tsvangirai he would be "dicing with death" if he ever attempted to instigate a Ukraine-style popular revolt in Zimbabwe.
In a fresh crackdown against dissension, the police last week arrested several church and civic leaders for organising public prayers and marches to mark last year's controversial home-demolition exercise by the government.
The police also banned the marches and prayers, fearing they could easily turn into mass protests against Mugabe and his government.
However, the marches went ahead in the second-largest city of Bulawayo after organisers had obtained a court order barring the police from stopping the march.
Political analysts say although Zimbabweans have largely been cowed by Mugabe's tactics of routinely deploying riot police and the military to crush street protests, worsening hunger and poverty are fanning public anger that Tsvangirai -- with proper planning and organisation -- could easily manipulate.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a severe six-year old economic crisis that has seen inflation breaching the 1 000% barrier. Last year, the World Bank said Zimbabwe's economic crisis was unprecedented for a country not at war.
The MDC and major Western governments blame Mugabe for wrecking the country's economy, which was one of the strongest in Africa at independence from Britain 26 years ago.
Mugabe denies the charge blaming the crisis on sabotage by Britain and her allies after he seized white-owned farms for redistribution to landless blacks six years ago.
The Harare authorities recently hiked salaries for civil servants, with the lowest-paid soldier now earning about Z$27-million while the lowest-paid school teacher now takes home about Z$33-million.
But the salaries are still way below the poverty datum line, which the government's Consumer Council of Zimbabwe says now stands at a staggering Z$42-million a month for an average family of six.
The Zimbabwe government often accuses the ZCTU, a strong ally of the MDC, of pushing a political agenda to remove Mugabe from power.
Meanwhile, Matombo and Lucia Matibenga retained their posts as president and first vice-president respectively during the ZCTU congress that ended on Saturday. -- ZimOnline