Sept. 09--HARARE -- A strike by Air Zimbabwe pilots over pay has thrown the small, ailing national carrier's schedules into chaos, travel agents said Thursday.
According to Air Zimbabwe, the 60 pilots were "on unforeseen collective job action that had caused disruption to some of our flights". Negotiations were continuing, the airline said.
Travel agents said most domestic and regional flights have been disrupted or delayed, including the weekly flight to Gatwick Airport in London.
The strike, which began Wednesday, is the latest in a series by public sector workers, whom the effectively broke government says it can afford to pay only very little since the country is struggling to emerge from economic collapse in 2008.
Zimbabwe's civil servants are paid an average of 165 US dollars 165 a month. Air Zimbabwe pilots, who earn a basic monthly salary of around 2,500 dollars, but have not been paid in full since February, the state-controlled daily Herald newspaper reported.
Air Zimbabwe chairman Jonathan Kadzura confirmed that pilots were being paid around 1,200 dollars only. He said the airline could not afford their demands for more.
Air Zimbabwe cannot afford to pay the salaries being demanded by the pilots, he said. All state employees were being paid only part of their due salaries.
Air Zimbabwe pilots reported for work early Wednesday, took their aircraft on to the runway, and then walked off the planes, the Herald said.
According to the report, the strike began after one of the pilots found himself unable to pay for his children's school fees. He declared he would not fly until he had been paid, and was later joined by colleagues.
Zimbabwe's fleet of 16 passenger aircraft has been reduced to about four since 1980, the year President Robert Mugabe was elected to office. Blame for Zimbabwe's economic turmoil has largely fallen on Mugabe.
Even if the leaders of United and Continental agree to merge their airlines, the hard work of combining two work forces with different unions and conflicting interests will remain.
The history of the airline industry is littered with cases in which peace in the boardroom was followed by rancor among co-workers at 30,000 feet.