BY Desmond Chingarande/ Farai Matiashe
ZIMBABWE’s restive workers, hard-hit by an unrelenting economic meltdown which has eroded their incomes, have petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured) to organise an urgent Tripartite Negotiating Forum (TNF) indaba this week to address the matter, or face a crippling nationwide industrial action.
The ultimatum comes as prices of basic commodities continue to skyrocket almost daily as Mnangagwa pleads with citizens to give his government’s “austerity for posterity measures” a chance to turn around the country’s economic fortunes.
But the workers and the general citizenry have dismissed the economic model as only benefiting the elite while suffocating the poor majority.
Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ) secretary-general Raymond Majongwe said an industrial action was imminent as their efforts to engage the government had not yielded any fruitful results since schools opened for the second term early last month.
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Union (ZCTU) president Peter Mutasa told NewsDay that after writing to Mnangagwa last week highlighting workers’ plight, government had agreed to initiate the dialogue process.
Mutasa said Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Sekai Nzenza wrote back, indicating that two meetings would be held between today and Wednesday to map the way forward.
“(The) ZCTU general council met on May 23 and decided that the price increases and general decline in standards of living is unacceptable and workers cannot bear it anymore. The poor working class, which includes formal, informal sectors and farmers, are most affected. Many are not able to pay for medical care and are dying in homes, many are starving (because) they are food insecure and the majority of workers are failing to pay school fees and rentals. The situation is dire and the deafening silence from government is disturbing,” Mutasa said.
“The general council decided that we write to President Mnangagwa, highlighting the plight of workers and asking the government to convene an urgent TNF. We wrote to him and the minister (Nzenza) responded, indicating that there were two meetings set for the 3rd and 5th of June to map the way forward for TNF.”
“However, the general council was clear that in the event that government and business do not address the problems workers are facing immediately, then ZCTU will call for a general strike. We are currently consulting workers on the nature and timing of the strike should there be no quick resolution of the problems,” Mutasa added.
Nzenza was not reachable for comment yesterday.
Apex Council secretary-general David Dzatsunga confirmed the call for an urgent meeting, saying previous salary agreements had been overtaken and rendered useless by the free-falling economy.
“The situation is no longer bearable negotiating for salary increases in this fast-changing economic environment. Whatever we are doing is being overtaken by the economic downturn. Seriously, there is need for a tripartite negotiation sooner rather than later. The austerity which has been introduced by government is affecting workers. Businesses are charging goods and services in United States dollars, but we are not being paid in US dollars. It’s an untenable situation which cannot just be solved through normal negotiations,” Dzatsunga said.
Amalgamated Rural Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) president Obert Masaraure said their members were already on strike.
“We are calling for a three-day job action, starting Monday (today) and ending on June 5. We are demanding salaries in US dollars or the interbank equivalent. The current economic crisis has robbed us of our wages, we are earning slave wages. We can’t feed our families, we can’t afford health care and we can’t even send our children to school. This three-day job action marks the beginning of a series of protests which we will sustain until we receive a living wage,” Masaraure said.
Majongwe weighed in, saying:“We have been engaging the government, but they have not done anything to improve our salaries. Whether they (believe) it or not teachers are incapacitated. They are 100% incapacitated. There is bitterness among our teachers. The new waves of price hikes made the situation even worse.
“There is definitely going to be a strike. We are still mobilising other teachers’ unions to avoid confusion. As PTUZ, we cannot do it alone. We are now moving towards declaring a strike.”