On International Workers Day, End Persecution of Unionists

On International Workers Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) stands in solidarity with workers in Zimbabwe and across the world.

Commemorated on 1 May every year, International Workers Day is a day full of history and symbolism for workers’ solidarity and the struggle for decent working conditions.

While the Constitution of Zimbabwe now guarantees labour rights including the right to collective job action and collective bargaining, freedom to demonstrate and petition, it is saddening to note that the Zimbabwean authorities such as the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) continue to disregard workers’ rights by arbitrarily suppressing their legitimate activities.

In recent months, Zimbabwe’s disrespect for labour rights reached a new low when authorities used force to break up demonstrations called for by aggrieved workers who were demanding an end to the economic crisis faced by people and a reversal of the steep hike in fuel prices by government.

Although Zimbabwe’s Constitution and laws guarantees freedom to demonstrate and petition including freedom of expression, assembly and association, the government restricted this right in practice through the violent repression of protests, which saw the arrest and prosecution of several Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) and Amalgamated Rural Teachers Union of Zimbabwe (ARTUZ) leaders and members including ZCTU President Peter Mutasa and Secretary General Japhet Moyo and ARTUZ President Obert Masaraure and Secretary-General Robson Chere, who are currently facing charges in court of subverting a constitutional government.

Apart from persecuting ZCTU and ARTUZ leaders, Zimbabwean authorities have also targeted medical workers, who over the past months paid a heavy price for standing up for their fundamental rights, freedoms, fairness and justice.

Authorities must appreciate that the right to form and join trade unions, to collectively bargain and to strike are universal human rights and that peaceful demonstrations, petitions, expression and assembly are a mark of a functioning democracy.

ZRP’s vicious reaction to the workers’ protest over genuine grievances afflicting their daily livelihoods is a blatant abuse of its power and is in violation of the Constitution and the International Labour Organisation standards, including the right to strike.

While authorities clamp down on labour leaders, workers continue to suffer. Workers in the public and private sector continue to make do with slave wages and their families live below the poverty datum line thereby worsening inequality levels. The unprecedented economic hardships continue to be compounded by rising commodity prices, currency crisis, high taxation, poor remuneration and lack of access to health care services.

In the light of worsening economic hardships, ZLHR urges government and private sector employers to respond to the workers’ plight by paying them a real minimum wage above the Poverty Datum Line and improving their working conditions including access to medicinal drugs and functioning health facilities.

In addition, government should immediately stop the persecution and prosecution of ZCTU and ARTUZ leaders and other workers and to immediately align labour laws with the Constitution, which has been outstanding for several years since 2013.

Qina Sisebenzi Qina!
Shinga Mushandi Shinga!
Long live Zimbabwean workers!

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR)

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