By Maxwell Sibanda
As Zimbabwe today joins the rest of the world in commemorating Workers’ Day there is nothing to celebrate as millions of people, the majority of them highly skilled are jobless with those few still employed being poorly remunerated.
The Daily News sought comments from political and social analysts who painted a gloomy picture of the Zimbabwean worker.
Political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said with 90 percent formal unemployment, there is little to celebrate today.
“We need a government that creates jobs, formal jobs. As people go to vote, vote for leaders who have concrete plans on their manifestos with figures, bench marks and milestones on how jobs will be created. People must not just vote for those specialising on hyperbole and banter as far as jobs are concerned,” said Saungweme.
Social commentator Rashweat Mukundu said there is need to review Zimbabwe’s developmental model to take into account the deindustrialisation and growing informal sector.
“I think the government has paid lip service to the small enterprises in terms of a review of business laws, safety, skills development, taxes among others. In essence, the Zimbabwe worker is no longer in big factories but on the street and small spaces where people are eking a living,” said Mukundu.
He said our labour and business laws are therefore archaic and not supporting the new worker.
“So we need the present and any future government to look in aligning national laws, and development models with the economic reality and this will translate into growth of the new sectors of our economy.
“A good example is the gold mining sector in which a significant quantity of gold comes from artisanal miners, and yet there are still makorokoza and operating with the basic of tools, damaging the environment and facing other hazards.”
Social analyst Cont Mhlanga said: “My message is to the workers and the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU). Don’t demand milk from a dying or dead cow. It’s madness to do that for whatever reason. Good governance in this country died many years ago and without good governance, there can never be a sustainable economy that can sustain workers’ demands.
“Mnangagwa says it all the time that Zimbabwe is now open for business, meaning Zimbabwe had been closed for business a long time ago.
“All there was is looting methods and corruption. So workers must be vigilant and not choose to call for strikes at this juncture of our political transformation but focus on fixing the problem that shut Zimbabwe for business in the first place.”
Mhlanga added that making demands now on this government is as good as taking the eye off the ball at the last crucial minute of the game.
“Strikes against this government at this time and in this economy is just another way of joining the nation’s looting group of the elite.”
ZimRights director Okay Machisa said: “The Workers’ Day should ordinarily be a moment of honouring the hard work of workers, but it has necessarily become a perennial occasion of mourning by Zimbabwean workers as the country looks at their conditions.
“The labour force in the formal sector has greatly dwindled due to chronic industrial collapse, resulting in high levels of unemployment and meteoric rise in informal employment.
“Yet, it is disturbing to note that the shortage of job opportunities has been manipulated by employers, including the government, to abuse workers on the threat of arbitrary dismissal and to silence genuine calls for improved working conditions.”
Political analyst Vivid Gwede said any new government after the elections needs to have a consultative approach to addressing the welfare of workers in Zimbabwe.
“It is unfortunate that Zimbabwean workers, beginning with the civil servants are grossly underpaid and neglected, while the government is contemptuous of and politicise their fair ask for better working conditions.
“So any government after the elections needs to be exemplary to all other employers on how to treat workers rather than the summary dismissals as the one recently ordered against nurses,” said Gwede.
He said it should be understood that the basis of a successful nation begins with better and caring treatment of those who toil and sweat, bend and lift, hew the wood and draw the water for society to prosper.
“Thus, the new mantra of ‘open for business’ should not mean open for abuse where workers are concerned. Our labour laws need to protect the workers and employers alike without giving an open cheque of exploitation of the former by the latter.”
The vice president of the Thokozani Khupe-led MDC, Obert Gutu, said most workers in Zimbabwe are now located within the informal sector.
“In fact, about 90 percent of the labour force is now found in the informal sector. As a country, we should strive to develop the informal sector into the formal sector by deliberately adopting creative and strategic policies that stimulate both domestic and foreign direct investment.
“The government should appreciate the fact that it is economically unhealthy to have at least 90 percent of the labour force surviving in the informal sector. For instance, it is extremely difficult for the tax authorities to obtain revenue from the informal sector,” said Gutu.
He added that on Workers’ Day, the government of Zimbabwe should be reminded that the few workers who are still formally employed are terribly underpaid and they lack other essential social amenities such as a reasonable pension and appropriate health insurance.
“The majority of Zimbabwean workers who are still fortunate enough to be formally employed literally exist like slaves,” said Gutu.
Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Paawuz) Raymond Sixpence said as Zimbabweans celebrate Workers’ Day tomorrow, farm workers are still earning $75 each per month which is far below the minimum wage.
He complained bitterly at the manner in which the new farmer and in particular politicians treated workers.
“Politicians, most of them former Cabinet ministers are not paying their workers at farms and we have taken some to the labour court. But we are disappointed because they do not attend labour hearings.
“We will, however, continue to engage them so that they unlock outstanding wages for farm workers — some owe not less than seven months of wages.”
Sixpence said there is no respect for the farm worker at all and most of the farmers who do not want to pay workers always talk of political connections, so we hope the new dispensation will do away with such protection when farm workers are being exploited.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) spokesperson Tabani Moyo said on Workers’ Day, CiZC stands in solidarity with persecuted civil servants as it joins the rest of the world in commemorating the 2018 International Workers’ Day which is being commemorated under the theme, “Uniting Workers for Social and Economic Advancement”.
“As the world commemorates this important day, CiZC implores the Zimbabwean government to urgently address the concerns of civil servants, most of who are earning far below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) which is currently estimated at around $600.00.
“CiZC holds the view that a motivated workforce (in this particular instance civil servants) is critical for national development hence the need for the government to prioritise the welfare of its workers.
“CiZC notes with concern that the government has for years totally ignored the concerns of civil servants and as discontent continues to grow among the workers, the government has resorted to intimidation and threats of dismissal.”
Moyo said the recent move (on April 17, 2018) by the Vice President, Retired General Constantino Chiwenga to fire striking nurses has shown a blatant disregard for labour rights by the “new dispensation”.
“That’s why we insist on the need for Zimbabwe to be open in all fronts, rather than being ‘open for business’, which in this case is a euphemism for outright exploitation of Zimbabwe. As if to say Zimbabwe is under the hammer and up for grabs for exploitation — the leadership is seemingly sleeping on the switch.
“When there is such a blanket ‘open for business’, it is the rights of the citizens in general and those of workers specifically that are undermined as there will be brazen state-capital collusion.
“We implore the government to desist from heavy handed approaches and prioritise negotiations when dealing with genuine concerns from its workers.”
Moyo said heavy handed approaches, as shown by Chiwenga will only plunge the nation into a deeper crisis, as the government is seen to be disregarding the constitution, which it is supposed to protect.
“When such excesses happen, the government continues on the path of apparent disregard of labour rights and resort to military tactics to quell genuine protests by impoverished workers.
“We take with great concern the move by the government to politicise industrial actions by civil servants who are merely seeking to push their employer to improve their welfare as well as working conditions. It is quite clear that the continued unrest in Zimbabwe’s public service is evidence of the government’s failure to prioritise the welfare of its workers.
“In some instances, the government has gone to an extent of misleading the nation on issues of civil servants’ salaries. This was the case when Health minister David Parirenyatwa publicly announced in March 2018 that they had reached an agreement with striking doctors yet that was not the situation on the ground.”
The CiZC spokesperson said this year’s Workers’ Day comes at a time teachers have threatened to go on a nationwide strike and CiZC implores the government to urgently act and negotiate with the teachers to avert yet another national crisis.
“CiZC also calls upon employers across the board to prioritise workers’ welfare and strive to ensure that salaries are in line with the Poverty Datum Line.
“It, however, must also be noted that improving the investment climate in the country is critical in improving the welfare of workers. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, stands in solidarity with the workers of Zimbabwe and urges them to remain vigilant in defending their constitutionally guaranteed rights which includes the right to organise, collective bargaining and petitioning,” said Moyo. Daily News