Zimbabwe, which has not been able to pay more than 300,000 state workers on time this year, will start firing employees at its agriculture ministry, as it seeks to trim a civil service where wages absorb more than 80% of government revenue.

Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira
Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Minister Prisca Mupfumira

The state-controlled Herald newspaper on Wednesday reported that 8,252 posts at the ministry, or 43% of its workforce, had been abolished, citing the Public Service Commission, which oversees government departments.

The government has ordered a freeze on hiring and promotions across all departments, a finance ministry document obtained by Bloomberg shows.

“We’re aware of the recommendations that were made by the Public Service Commission because we had oral evidence from the permanent secretary, who told us they were going to lay off workers, but we did not know that it was going to be this huge number,” Goodluck Kwaramba, chairman of Zimbabwe’s Parliamentary Portfolio Committee for Public Service and Labour, said in an interview.

Zimbabwe missed a self-imposed June deadline to pay arrears of $1.8bn to lending institutions as it seeks to get financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and African Development Bank, which can only resume when its debts are paid.

The economy has halved in size since 2000. A shortage of cash has resulted in withdrawals being limited from ATMs, and the economy is suffering deflation due to a plunge in consumer demand.

“This retrenchment is part of the re-engagement effort with the IMF,” Prosper Chitambara, an economist at the Labour and Economic Development Research Institute, said in an interview.

Phone calls to the commission and to deputy agriculture minister Paddy Zhanda were not answered when Bloomberg sought comment on Wednesday