Zimbabwe's government plans to abolish about half the jobs in the agriculture department, a government official said on Wednesday, as President Robert Mugabe's administration struggles to pay public service wages.
The southern African nation is facing a biting shortage of cash, its worst since 2009 when it dumped its hyperinflation-wrecked currency in favour of the U.S. dollar.
Zimbabwe, which spends 82 percent of its national annual budget on wages, said on Monday it would no longer hire new public workers as it struggles to pay soldiers, police, teachers and other employees.
The deputy minister in the agriculture department, Paddy Zhanda, said his office was seeking to prevent the shedding of about 8,000 jobs decision by the Public Service Commission (PSC), which hires state workers.
Zhanda said the department had offered an alternative plan that would cut wages but save jobs, because dismissing staff could impact agriculture at a time the sector is struggling to recover from the worst drought in a quarter century.
"For example, workers can work fewer days and we could retire non critical staff above the age of 60 years as well as doing away with posts that are vacant," Zhanda told Reuters.
Cecelia Alexander, chairperson of the main union for state workers Apex Council, could not be reached for comment.
The state-run Herald newspaper reported on Wednesday that the PSC had notified the agriculture ministry on July 29 that 8,252 posts out of 19,235 had been scrapped with immediate effect.
In March last year, Harare carried out an audit of its government workforce but has not made the results public. An audit by private consultants carried out in 2010 showed that up to 70,000 "ghost workers" were on the payroll.
There are more than 300,000 employees in government, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistical Agency, a number which does not include the army, air force, police and prisons.
Delays in salaries as well as the cash squeeze that has seen long queues at banks, are some of the reasons that have in the last three months fuelled anti-government protests that have ended in clashes with police.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia/Jeremy Gaunt)