BY VENERANDA LANGA
WORKERS’ unions have bemoaned the plethora of challenges faced by employees, whose stagnant salaries have been eroded by runaway inflation, amid incessant price hikes, flouting of labour laws and sexual harassment at workplaces.
Speaking to NewsDay ahead of today’s May Day commemorations, Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa said the commemorations had been dampened by the spectre of food insecurity and serious financial challenges, which could get worse as the year progresses, with the Zanu PF government failing to tame the tide.
“This is another bleak year for labour and all hopes, soon after the November 2017 removal of former President Robert Mugabe that things will improve, have been dashed because the country is facing a plethora of challenges such as food insecurity, failure to pay rentals and a majority of school children are going to be sent away from school for failure to pay fees,” Mutasa said.
“A lot of workers are dying at their homes because they cannot afford medical care because they earn useless RTGS dollars, while there is a mismatch in prices which are in United States dollars.”
This year’s main commemorations will be held at Dzivarasekwa Stadium in Harare where opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and his entire top party leadership will be among the guests.
Mutasa said he will be the guest speaker and his speech will be followed by another speech by ZCTU secretary-general Japhet Moyo.
“It is our day as workers so we as ZCTU, will be the guest speakers. We have invited all political parties (and leaders) in Zimbabwe, including President Emmerson Mnangagwa. If he does not attend, at least we expect the Labour minister Sekai Nzenza to attend as we have provision for their speeches. In the past, in 1987 and 1988, former Prime Minister Robert Mugabe used to attend May Day commemorations,” Mutasa said.
He said government policies pertaining to workers had caused much harm to the economy and there was now need to change course.
“Labour laws have been amended many times since 2002 with an aim to weaken protection of workers in line with neo-liberalist policies that government has put in place since 1991. Our Constitution for the first time recognised labour rights, but we have witnessed court judgments like the infamous July 2015 Supreme Court ruling where the law was interpreted in such a way that neo-liberalism and business win,” Mutasa said.
In the landmark ruling, the Supreme Court gave the employer the right to terminate workers’ contracts and offload them at three months’ notice without having to pay retrenchment packages.
MDC spokesperson Jacob Mafume said: “Our entire leadership from the party president Nelson Chamisa and other top leadership is going to attend, including MPs, councillors, members of the standing committee and party members will be there. Party members will also attend the May Day commemorations from various provinces in solidarity with the workers.
“Therefore, we expect anyone who has worked, who has never worked, and who hopes to work to come in solidarity with workers because people must be able to fight against the austerity measures that ZCTU is talking about.”
Zimbabwe Teachers’ Union chief executive officer Sifiso Ndlovu said remuneration of workers had been eroded.
“Teachers, specifically, are now grounded such that some have debts of up to $2 000 every month when they earn $600 monthly. We now want employers to increase salaries,” Ndlovu said.
Association of Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe president Obert Masaraure said May Day commemorations come at a time when austerity measures put in place by Finance minister Mthuli Ncube have made the working class poorer.
“As far as labour rights are concerned, teachers that took part in demonstrations have had their salaries un-procedurally cut. Government is setting a bad precedent to the private sector. Our union members have also been abducted and tortured against international labour recommendations and local laws,” he said.
The Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) said the commemorations come at a time when the economic situation is worsening, reducing most Zimbabweans, including workers to live a life of perpetual poverty.
“The harsh economic environment punctuated by rising cost of basic commodities, a cash crisis, retrenchments, unemployment and the widening gap between the poor and rich, has compromised the rights and health status of workers,” CWGH said.
The organisation added: “(Workers) cannot get or afford decent quality health services. Although the cost of living is skyrocketing on a daily basis, remunerations for most workers have remained stagnant for nearly two years condemning the workers to being destitutes.
“Worst affected are those working in mines, farms and plantations where wages are miserably low. Most of them depended on the collapsed public health sector and cannot afford private services.”