Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

ZCTU must move with the times

By Maxwell Sibanda

When the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) called for workers’ demonstrations across the country at the weekend, I was skeptical with the timing considering that the country literally no longer has workers.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president George Nkiwane makes an address at Gwanzura Stadium (Picture by NewsDay)
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions president George Nkiwane makes an address at Gwanzura Stadium (Picture by NewsDay)

With 400 companies having closed shop in the past year alone, not putting into account those that collapsed in the last 10 years, hence throwing workers onto the streets, ZCTU should have realised that their membership has shrunk to an extent that trying to group together those still in formal employment would be a mammoth task.

By his own admission during the demonstrations, ZCTU president George Nkiwane said there are now under 700 000 workers in formal employment!

The remaining workers, however, feel that there is no value in supporting the ZCTU cause as the labour body has for a long time failed to stand up for them — what with several companies going for months without paying workers?

The Grain Marketing Board, National Railways of Zimbabwe, Harare City Council, Hwange and Ziscosteel are among hundreds of companies that have been failing to pay workers who in turn feel short-changed especially when they have labour bodies like ZCTU.

What has the ZCTU done to force these defaulting companies to pay workers who make up the bulk of its remaining membership?

We have not heard ZCTU engaging these companies, nor have we seen them meeting these affected workers so as to address their concerns.

Companies like Ziscosteel have gone for more than five years without paying workers’ salaries and ZCTU expects them to join in the demonstrations?

NRZ workers have been in the news recently, sleeping at the railway stations in protest over salaries — has ZCTU visited the affected workers to work out a way forward so that their grievances are addressed; maybe hire a labour lawyer to represent them?

Is it not a worker’s right to receive a salary after working for a month? But workers are going for more than five years without salaries and you tell me there is a workers’ union. My foot!

Interestingly at the weekend ZCTU was mooting the idea of petitioning government over grievances to do with workers, but is it not too late?

The ZCTU as a mother body of trade unions should have been the busiest institution in recent years fighting for the retrenched workers.

Thousands have been sent home by their respective companies without any compensation and no one is helping them fight these big corporates who seem to be untouchable. Where is the ZCTU?

The other worker still active is the civil servant who is not very eager to be associated with ZCTU lest he/she loses his/her job.

With the labour body having played a part in the formation of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC in 1999 the Zanu PF government has always associated those who support it with the opposing force, hence civil servants are afraid to be associated with the trade union.

They fear reprisals at their work places which would lead to a purge and loss of the precious job.

While there are still a few workers in formal employment in factories and other companies who could have joined the demonstration, the ZCTU should be aware that for a worker to raise a dollar to use for transport is quite a task for many.

The cause has to be just for someone to fork out money to travel from Chitungwiza, Mabvuku, Dzivarasekwa or Borrowdale into the city centre for a demonstration — no wonder the ruling Zanu PF government busses people to national events like burials of national heroes and even when they hold their political rallies.

The ZCTU, if it wants the ordinary worker to attend its marches, should provide buses, kombis or even lorries to ferry members to and from the city given the present biting economic situation where families are surviving on a dollar per day.

The ZCTU executive must realise that one dollar is quite a lot of money for many!

ZCTU should also wake up and smell the coffee because most of their former members are now vendors as those retrenched turned to vending for survival.

A vendor’s demonstration would have filled the streets and this is evident from the public meetings they have held in recent years.

Maxwell Sibanda is the Daily News Assistant Editor where this article was originally published