No respite in sight for workers

HARARE - Labour organisations have described this year’s May Day as a sombre affair as workers commemorated it amid poor living conditions and job insecurities caused by President Robert Mugabe’s government’s misrule.

Japhet Moyo, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) secretary-general, said the employees’ rights sphere is under siege as government and private sector investors push for legal reforms which expose employees to further exploitation.

“We are not celebrating May Day but rather commemorating the day because we feel as Zimbabwean workers we are under siege,” Moyo said in an interview with the Daily News this week ahead of May Day celebrations yesterday.

“Everyone blames the employer and government, working in connivance with employers who have changed labour laws to their advantage. Our theme this year, Workers under siege, arise and fight on, is informed by the prevailing economic environment in the country,” he said.

Employers are pushing for enhanced flexibility of labour laws to make hiring and firing easier arguing it is the most appropriate route for the struggling industry.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for labour rights including freedom of profession, trade, or occupation but these have been disregarded as the unconventional economy takes charge.

Finance minister Patrick Chinamsa told Parliament during this year’s budget presentation that at least 55 000 workers have lost their jobs in the last three years following the closure of 4 610 companies.

Government is also finding it difficult to meet its wage bill while 2014 bonus payments spilled into this year as Treasury had to do with batch payments owing to bankruptcy.

Chinamasa initially suspended civil servants’ bonuses citing tight fiscal space but was forced to make a U-turn by President Robert Mugabe.

ZCTU is one organisation that has suffered severely from the informalised economy as its membership continues to dwindle with the persistent laying-off of workers by troubled companies.

David Dzatsunga, the College Lecturers Association of Zimbabwe president, said challenges facing employees in Zimbabwe demand that trade unions set-aside their differences and form a united front.

“Commemorations have become characterised with sadness but 2015 is worse. The economy continues on a free-fall. Corruption with impunity continues with people stealing and nothing happens to them. We have become a nation of sellers than buyers.  Government has no clue on how to address the problems and civil servants are full of anxiety,” he said.

“It has been a long winter for civil servants with no salary increment for years and it’s high time workers unite and basically use the same style which was used to claim and dictate our rights in the past.”

“We are aware the formal sector has dwindled but the unions are also not united. It’s one of the major challenges. Employers are aware of this and continue to play around it to maintain the differences existing,” Dzatsunga added.

Trade unionism used to be vibrant in Zimbabwe before the formation of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC. Critics say Mugabe’s divisive tactics took over the critical sector after realising its power in re-shaping politics post the MDC formation.

Industrial actions have become the order of the day as companies struggle to pay their employees.  Thousands have invaded the streets as vendors while others are moving to foreign countries for employment.

Although it is naturally rich in resources, Zimbabwe has failed to turn-around its fortunes. The Zanu PF government has become known for corruption and inconsistent economic policies which have driven away foreign direct investment (FDI).

An estimated 80 percent of the population is jobless and hundreds join them every month almost two-years after Mugabe promised Zimbabweans two million jobs.

However, Joseph Chinotimba, the Zimbabwe Federation of Trade Unions (ZFTU) president, believes Zimbabwean employees are amongst the world’s top-earners.

“Those employers who are doing well, they should award their employees in the spirit of celebration. Zimbabweans’ salaries are much better than those of America and Britain even South Africa. In America, if you earn $400 then you have one of the best jobs. People earn as little as $85,” said the war-veteran without any iota of evidence.

“The difference is in America bread costs $0,05 and can buy a shirt for $0,50. Nyaya dzedu dzekukara, kuda kukama vamwe is the problem.  We are suffering because of our stupidity. Prices go-up without justification. The Bible on the other hand says there is no bread for the lazy man,” Chinotimba added without giving further explanations.

A family of six needs at least $540 every month to survive, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe.

The majority of Zimbabweans are living far below the poverty datum line.

FinScope survey’s latest report states that over 75 percent of the country’s seven million adult population are living on an average of $200 per month.

The Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said over a decade of hyper-publicised economic ties with the now global economic powerhouse has yielded in nothing for Zimbabwe’s poverty stricken masses.

“Poor foreign policies that focus on hostility towards the West and appeasement towards the East regardless of evident limited benefits of the “Look East Policy” have similarly resulted in phantom trade agreements between Zimbabwe and eastern countries that are devoid of any benefits to Zimbabwe,” the organisation said in a statement.

According to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe’s latest statistics, FDI in Zimbabwe declined from $400 million in 2013 to $372, 6 million last year as investors continue to shun the country amid a worsening economic crisis.

 

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