Addressing a May Day rally, Tsvangirai said the government he formed with President Robert Mugabe in February to try to end a political and economic crisis that has brought Zimbabwe to ruin would maintain the current monthly salary of $100 that it is paying its workers.
"This government is broke, and we are only able to pay the $100 allowance, but when things improve, we want this allowance to graduate into a proper salary," he said. "For now, everyone, all of us, including President Mugabe, is getting $100".
Tsvangirai, a fiery former trade union chief, pleaded with Zimbabwe’s Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) to give the new government time to fix the economy before pressing its demands for a minimum wage of $454.
"We have been in office for less than three months. I plead with you to please give us time," he said. "Your demands must be realistic, taking into account that your government is broke and that industry has not been performing."
Earlier, ZCTU President Lovemore Matombo told thousands of cheering workers at the rally that the labour movement would call national strikes and protests to press its case.
"If this is not met, the workers are going onto the streets," Matombo said, without giving any deadline.
Tsvangirai said although Mugabe was not an easy person to work with, both his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and the veteran president’s ZANU-PF wanted the government to succeed in repairing the economy and achieving peace and stability.
"We have our arguments, our quarrels but we want this country to succeed," he added.
On the wage demands, he said: "You know we would want to pay … but this has to be a process and we are working to resuscitate the economy."
The government has appealed for billions of dollars from the West to help revive Zimbabwe’s shattered economy, but Western donors such as Britain want to see further progress in implementing a power-sharing agreement before considering any large-scale aid.
Finance Minister Tendai Biti, who held talks in London on Thursday with Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Africa Minister Mark Malloch-Brown, said his country was receiving $400 million in credit lines from African states to revive its ailing industry.
Although the funds from African states may help, Zimbabwe is in dire need of aid from Western donors, who have demanded broad economic and political reforms, including ending a new wave of farm invasions targeting the few remaining white farmers.
Mugabe, 85, Zimbabwe’s ruler since independence from Britain in 1980, says the southern African country’s economy has been sabotaged by "racist" enemies of his seizures of white farms for landless blacks.