Workers’ Day: Another holiday robbed of its significance

Just like many other national holidays whose significance has become blurred by the incumbent failed administration, Workers’ Day has become a day lacking substance, with no meaning whatsoever except that workers get to rest on the day.

guest column: Learnmore Zuze

The workplace has become a place denoted by poor working conditions, pitiable salaries (if ever they come), exploitation of contract workers and abuse of workers’ pension and medical aid contributions. The remaining workers constituting probably 10% of the adult population have nothing to cherish on their supposed day.

The ever-shrinking job market has given rise to the unbridled exploitation of the worker as graduates have been gladly made to take up menial work. In stark contrast, the Workers’ Day aims to celebrate the most important asset in any productive nation worldwide. It is, however, something next to mockery to celebrate the Zimbabwean worker who has to contend with taking something as inconceivable as a pay cut. Pay cuts are uncivilised and very much against the spirit and letter of international labour regulations, yet they have become the new low and the new norm for the Zimbabwean worker. While being a worker gave one some air of dignity in the 80s and 90s, it’s a painfully sad story today.

With a single salary, the worker could sustain their own family, the extended family and even take in relatives but the hapless worker created by the government today can’t even fend for himself. Add to that, the burden of school fees, rent, bills and groceries and you have a worker who is pouring his energies into a low return activity and risks going to his grave early with nothing for the years of toil.

Again, with the almost unbelievable unemployment rate, it is extremely sad that there is no longer any voice for the oppressed worker; workers who negotiate for better salaries and better working conditions have become an endangered species.

It is a high risk activity to try and represent the interests of the worker. Workers’ representatives are treated as the chief enemies who also fear being victimised for continued bargain.

Any slight wrong by representatives of workers is likely to be magnified with fatal consequences as a way of silencing them. Consequently, the worker is having to bear all sorts of difficulties in lame silence.

Largely due to the barren economy, most companies cannot be faulted as they are also striving to keep afloat in unremitting environment.

It is shocking but almost commonplace now to find workers who, under normal circumstances, should have protective clothing working without any. Some workers are not even covered by company social security schemes yet they have to trudge on. The situation created by the government actually benefits the employer whose influence and power is fortified by the present state of affairs.

It is actually a pity coming to the female employee who has to take more abuse than their male counterparts in the workplace. The exploitation is more where female contract workers tend to be highly vulnerable to abuse by male bosses in the hope of retaining the contract.

In the present circumstances, no one cares about the worker; many companies’ chief concern is getting results (profitability) from their workers without even trying to find out how these people are managing. Due to the byword of downsizing these days, workers are having to shoulder the extra burden left void due to retrenchments; the worker has simply become an abused soul.

One would expect the remaining workers (after retrenchments) to get at least slight increase because they are the workforce filling the gap left by retrenchment but alas, this does not happen. Looking at the political landscape in Zimbabwe, with its obvious impact on the economy, it is apparent the situation is not likely to change. The worker no longer has value and the day of the worker now brings forth a forlorn sadness.

What makes the situation gloomier is that those who should be monitoring or at least ensuring that abuse of the worker is curbed have themselves created this catastrophic state of affairs.

Government should, in essence, be intervening by protecting the worker, but then who would attend to the internecine fights which are more important than the worker’s plight.

The Zimbabwean worker is now effectively on his own. There was a time when government’s vigilance on the workers’ welfare could be felt. Some may recall a video clip in which the then Labour minister, Eddison Zvobgo, came to the rescue of abused workers at a white-owned farm.

Zvobgo was unyielding, asserting his authority as the responsible minister that he did not approve of the employers’ actions. Such years may not be coming back any time soon especially with the current leadership gearing for 2018, everything becomes secondary.

We bemoan the dearth of meaning of the International Worker’s Day in Zimbabwe and sympathise with the worker who has to soldier in this extremely tough times. The worker and his day have been robbed of importance.

Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail: lastawa77@gmail.com

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