1 May 2016
ZIMBABWE Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) stands in solidarity with workers of Zimbabwe in commemorating International Workers’ Day on 1 May 2016.
ZLHR salutes all courageous working women and men who have sacrificed so much to promote and defend the right to a dignified life free from poverty, a living wage, social justice and human rights for all, regardless of socio-economic status or privilege.
International Workers’ Day is a day full of history and symbolism for workers’ solidarity and the struggle for decent working conditions, and is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the achievements of workers in the social and economic spheres.
In Zimbabwe, it is dismaying that for those who are still engaged in formal employment, this year’s International Workers’ Day commemorations is another difficult day on which they continue to grapple with grinding poverty, slave wages in much of the public and private sector, and continued assaults on their fundamental rights and freedoms. This is so despite the hollow claims that Zimbabwe has enjoyed 36 years of independence from its oppressors.
It is terrifying that a country which was once prospering and even considered the bread basket of southern Africa, can sink to such low levels where workers who were gainfully employed have been left without jobs as a result of forced retrenchments occasioned by massive closure of companies.
Those workers who are fortunate to be employed in the private and public sector continue to earn slave wages that do not allow them and their families to live above the poverty datum line, while unemployment and inequality is increasing at a shocking pace. Sadly, the government and employers in private enterprise have turned their backs on the working people.
The promise that was delivered to Zimbabweans in 2013 of creating 2.2 million jobs has remained a fallacy and a crowd-pleasing pre-election sweetener.
Workers in both the public and private sector have had to endure slashed and delayed salaries while some identified and unidentified heavy weights in the corporate, and indeed some government entities have abused their position, to unjustly enrich themselves.
While Zimbabwe’s constitution now guarantees some key provisions, social and economic rights violations continue on the increase, with more cases being attended to by organisations such as ZLHR since May 2015.
Of great concern are violations of the rights to shelter, which has been by far, the biggest challenge from the legal and socio-political perspective as forced demolition of houses and informal sector trading stalls continue. As a result, workers and their families have been left displaced and had their property and livelihoods destroyed.
With most workers condemned to informal sector trading, it is worrying that those eking out a living by way of informal employment are always at the mercy of government. The never-ending economic decline continues to result in growing formal unemployment and increased informal trading, which the government has attempted to formalise with various challenges, including disrespect for constitutional protections. These populations are at risk of repression and political manipulation. Running battles continue to be experienced between informal sector traders and the municipal police and ZLHR regrets that at times the action taken by authorities has been arbitrary leading to loss of wares by the informal traders even when the law is clear on how confiscated goods must be dealt with.
While the new Constitution has some provisions which protect labour rights, freedom to demonstrate and petition and the right to collective job action and collective bargaining, it is saddening to note that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP), a police service sworn to work for the protection of the populace continues to disregard workers’ rights through attempting to suppress their legitimate activities in cases where they are not legally mandated to intervene.
To prove their unrepentant nature, some members of the ZRP continue to deny workers and other citizens the right to exercise their constitutionally guaranteed and recognised fundamental rights and freedoms of association and assembly.
Just in January, police in Harare suppressed a protest organised by Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe while in August 2015, ZRP prohibited the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) from staging street protests over the massive job losses in a move which exposed high levels of paranoia by state security functionaries.
The unilateral actions by the police are contemptuous of commitments in the new Constitution, which ensures freedom of assembly, association and freedom to demonstrate and petition. We are perturbed that the police seem not to learn, even after ZLHR has on numerous occasions in recent years fought on behalf of the ZCTU and labour union leaders to secure one court order after another nullifying the ZRP’s unlawful use of the offensive Public Order and Security Act to stop workers’ union activities.
We reiterate that ZRP should desist from prying into, and destabilising, labour union activities as the police have no business in trade union work.
On the remuneration front, ZLHR is disheartened that both private and public sector workers continue to receive slave wages despite endless promises by politicians to review and improve their torrid working conditions, while at some state-run institutions such as National Railways of Zimbabwe and Grain Marketing Board, protests in demand of payment of their outstanding wages and salaries continue to be disregarded.
It is lamentable that, while workers who have been condemned to slave wages struggle to survive, some privileged people in government, who are enjoying lavish lifestyles, have elected to be blind to the workers’ plight because they are covered by the unfair salary structures and the allowances they amass from sometimes superfluous foreign jaunts and other questionable activities including the opaque accounting for the country’s mineral wealth.
From the unsolicited and shocking disclosures revealing that Zimbabwe could have lost $15 billion in potential diamond revenue, ZLHR calls upon Parliament to launch a probe into the authenticity of such a scandalous revelation and take appropriate remedies in line with its mandate.
The government must end its insensitivity towards workers, implement labour law reforms and the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation’s Commission of Enquiry Report on violations of trade union rights, and reduce the high levels of income tax that are a millstone on beleaguered workers of Zimbabwe.
ZLHR calls upon all employers and the government to respond to the workers’ plight by paying all workers a minimum wage above the PDL, and improving their working conditions including access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs and functional health facilities. To us responsibility for the failure to remunerate workers with Poverty Datum Line (PDL) linked salaries and improve their working conditions lies squarely and fully on the shoulders of the government, which has proven that almost three years after presiding over the state of the country’s affairs since the last election, it is simply unconcerned with the challenges faced by workers and those outside their ivory towers.
ZLHR remains fully committed to promoting, protecting and defending workers’ rights and we stand together with the working and unemployed masses in Zimbabwe in calling for a better and more dignified life for all.