THE Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights) joins the country and all working peoples across the world in commemorating the International Workers’ Day, or May Day, which reflects on the fundamental rights, freedoms and conditions of service of workers.
The Workers’ Day commemorations of 2018 come at a time when workers in Zimbabwe, including civil servants, are facing poor conditions of service and are perennially underpaid and when violations of labour rights are rife.
ZimRights calls upon the government’s new mantra of ‘open for business’ to also mean that the decency of workers’ conditions will be guaranteed and that there will be no any ‘open for abuse’ mentality by employers, regarding workers in the country.
As the cost of living in the country has steadily rose over the years, the levels of remuneration have stagnated below the Poverty Datum Line (PDL) and, in some cases plunged, and macroeconomic instability has exacerbated the calamitous situation.
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.
Typically exploiting this high unemployment, recently Vice President Retired General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to summarily dismiss nurses for demanding better salaries and improved conditions of service in the medical facilities.
In clear contempt and disdain for workers’ bargaining rights, Chiwenga threatened to replace them with nurses in retirement and those out of employment.
At the heart of the crisis, therefore rests the reality that the government has failed to protect workers and actually set a bad precedence in its own treatment of civil servants, whose plight reveals abuse, limited bargaining power, intimidation and exploitation.
The government as employer of standard and benchmark for other employers in the country should not merely craft labour laws, but has an obligation to develop good labour standards.
The government must set an example of respecting labour rights in the way it treats civil servants and workers of all public entities, or companies, where the government has a stake.
Yet, this has not been the case with companies in which the government owns a stake such as Hwange Colliery Company (HCC) owing the workers several years of unpaid salaries, which has prompted the workers’ spouses to demonstrate at the company’s premises.
Whereas, the economic decline has undeniably affected all Zimbabweans, workers have borne the brunt of economic challenges through industrial closures, dismissals, retrenchments, overwork, job insecurity, and temporary employment and salary cuts.
The repeated threats of strikes by teachers, nurses and doctors reveal the vast disgruntlement, not only among civil servants, but in the labour sector.
The government has an obligation to restore, deepen and protect workers’ rights to negotiate and bargain for improved conditions of service, including exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, associate and peacefully protest.
Apart from addressing these symptoms of the broader maladministration of national affairs affecting Zimbabwean workers, the government has an obligation to turn around the economy through sound economic policies.
The government needs to ensure inclusive growth that will bring more jobs and better working conditions for all Zimbabweans.
ZimRights Hotlines: 0773789874, 0733606797, 0718928611