UNIONS representing civil servants have accused the government of failing to honour its promises after talks over new pay ended Tuesday without a deal being reached.
When presenting his 2014 national budget last week, Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa said the country's estimated 230,000-strong civil service was taking up an unsustainable 75 percent of government revenues.
He said this needed to be reduced to about 30 percent by 2018, hinting at possible retrenchments.
But the ruling Zanu PF party agreed during a November 7 politburo meeting that civil service salaries would be increased to US$540 for the least paid staffers, up from the current US$297.
Party spokesman Rugare Gumbo told reporters that President Robert Mugabe had been particularly forceful during the meeting about the need to increase civil service salaries in line with the country's Poverty Datum Line.
Said Gumbo after the meeting: "The politburo resolved that no civil servant will get paid a salary which is below the poverty datum line.
"That is the position of the party that civil servants will get paid at least above the poverty datum line. It's a very important point and the President (Robert Mugabe) was very forceful about it.
"He felt it was not good that civil servants be underpaid as has been the case in the last four years."
However, union representatives were left frustrated Tuesday after the government sent junior officers to the talks who left the meeting without making any commitments.
"We presented our position paper to Government, but we were disappointed that we go to that meeting with high hopes only to discover that Government was not even ready to give us a figure in terms of salary increment," said Teachers Union of Zimbabwe chief executive Manuel Nyawo.
The government has over the last few weeks claimed that bickering among the unions over who should attend the talks had delayed agreement on a new pay deal.
But Nyawo said they were surprised to realise that government was not ready either when they had resolved their own differences.
"What we discovered is that Government is not yet ready to fulfil its obligation in terms of its promise. Again, this idea of sending some middle managers to resolve this issue is not proper because they do not make binding decisions and it is time consuming," he said.
"We want to urge Government to treat the issue of civil servants salaries seriously. They say they will stagger the salaries towards the Poverty Datum Line, but they are not coming up with a figure and that is leaving us with a lot of dissatisfaction."
Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Majongwe also confirmed that "nothing had come out of the meeting" after government sent junior officers who could not make binding decisions.
But Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Deputy Minister Tongai Muzenda said there was nothing wrong with the government negotiators asking for time to consult.
"That team has full mandate of the Government and whatever it says is binding," he said.
"Why should we send them if they cannot make binding decisions? If the team feels that it wants to go back and consult, there is nothing wrong with that and it is an acceptable negotiating tactic."
In his budget statement, Chinamasa said although the government's employment costs amounted to 75 percent of the total revenue budget, individual salaries were still very low and needed to be reviewed.
He reiterated his Zanu PF party's commitment to increase salaries in-line with the Poverty Datum Line but said the target would be reached through staggered adjustments over a period of time.
"The government is, in line with commitments made during the electoral process, working towards raising minimum public servants remuneration to current Poverty Datum Line levels," said Chinamasa.
"A staggered and progressive approach towards realising this goal would be implemented in a manner that leaves room for continued funding of government operations including service delivery."
Going forward however, the government wage bill must be reduced from 75 percent in 2013 to 55-65% by 2015 and 30% by 2018, the minister added.
Chinamasa also hinted at possible retrenchments saying there was a need to "manage the size of the general civil service establishment, mindful of the need to fill posts in critical sectors".
The opposition MDC-T party says the civil service ranks have, over the years, been massed by thousands of so-called "ghost workers", most of them activists of Mugabe's Zanu PF party.