Workers Day: Who will stand with the worker?

Today marks the day of the worker internationally; a day that ideally should celebrate the people by which results are achieved. It is a day to reflect on the contribution of the worker and appreciate their input.

By Learnmore Zuze

It is, however, unfortunate seeing as it is that the day has come at a time when the worker in Zimbabwe is disgruntled to the core. Medical personnel were recently on strike with the Vice President Constantino Chiwenga firing them and threatening to have their positions filled again. Previously, doctors had gone on strike citing genuine concerns on the laughable salaries they had been receiving. As we speak, teachers are set to go on strike with schools about to open. What we see are not the actual problems, but basically the symptoms of a deep seated problem.

It is apparent that it’s only the nurses and teachers who have raised their voices against poor conditions of service; there are thousands of workers who continue to trudge on under extremely difficult circumstances. The economic disaster left by former President Robert Mugabe is a disastrous legacy on its own that robs the worker of his voice.

No wonder even the current administration even has the temerity to threaten to fire and hire other staff. This would not naturally happen in normally run countries because there would be not enough personnel to rehire from. Zimbabwe is such that if those at work were to be fired, there could probably be three, if not more, people who could fill in the jobs left. This situation creates and in fact has created a fertile ground for the threatening and exploitation of workers, under normal circumstances, should be able to voice their concerns as provided for by the Constitution.

The truth of the matter is that there is no Workers’ Day, no freedom for the worker if every of their concerns is greeted by direct and indirect threats. It has become slavery of a kind. The worker deserves to have grievances addressed and that cannot be ignored. The workplace has become a place characterised by poor working conditions and pitiable salaries. It has actually become a high risk activity to try and represent the interests of the worker. Workers’ representatives are perceived as the chief enemies and their continued victimisation leaves the worker totally vulnerable. Any slight move for the benefit of the worker has been quickly interpreted in political language. It is also real that politics do come in the way of labour but it is imperative to look into the veracity of the issues raised by workers.

As I have highlighted before, the employer risks perpetuating “Mugabeism” by the knee-jerk reactions to shift blame to politics. A sober employer should ask themselves: is it a lie that workers are working without the necessary protective clothing? Isn’t it true that executives’ salary bill is twice or even thrice that of workers. Shouldn’t there be dignity associated with particular professions? How on earth does an ambulance driver earn more than a medical doctor who had to brave five years of university learning.

The point is simple: the workers’ plight must be looked into without political glasses. The Workers’ Day this side of the equator has become nothing more than a day in which workers get to rest

The Zimbabwean case is quite unfortunate because the government which, in itself, should champion the cause of the worker is leading in the threatening of the worker. Government should be seen to swiftly intervene in protecting the worker, but it gives a cue to the private sector if it victimises its own. Who will stand with the worker when government itself is victimising the worker? It is a given that the private sector is more likely to trample on workers’ rights than the government. Now if the government itself leads this crusade, who will watch over the worker?

The Zimbabwean worker is now effectively on his own. Gone are the days when people like the late Eddison Zvobgo would go straight to a farm and assert the rights of the worker. Gone are the days when a strike by employees would be understood in its proper context.

It’s a case of a combination of factors all to the detriment of the worker but then the question remains: how long will the worker’s rights be trampled upon? When will the Mugabe legacy of disregard to the workers plight continue?

We mourn the loss of meaning of the International Workers’ Day in Zimbabwe and many other parts of the world were workers are near-serfs. The story of the abused and threatened worker must end.

Learnmore Zuze is a law officer and writes in his own capacity. E-mail

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