ZLHR Solidarity Statement on International Workers Day

ON INTERNATIONAL Workers Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) stands in solidarity with the working and unemployed masses in Zimbabwe in calling for a better and more dignified life for all.

Observed globally every year on 1 May, International Workers Day celebrates the accomplishments and contributions that workers make towards efforts to achieve the sustainable development of the world and presents an opportunity to reflect on the challenges faced by workers.

In 2020, International Workers Day is being commemorated at an extremely distressing moment when workers, employers, governments and societies worldwide are grappling with the massive challenge of combating the coronavirus epidemic, which has resulted in some fatalities and drastically affected people’s working routines and at times their ability to work.

In the face of the coronavirus, ensuring safety and health at work is indispensable in the management of the deadly pandemic and to prevent and control the risk of contagion, psycho-social risks and other work-related safety and health risks associated with the epidemic.

In Zimbabwe, it is saddening that ZLHR had to resort to instituting legal action to compel government to provide personal protective equipment, clothing, and other accessories to frontline medical workers and other supporting workers who are working tirelessly in helping to combat the spread of coronavirus.

Over the last year, in curtailment of their fundamental rights and freedoms, several trade union leaders have been prosecuted and persecuted as authorities disregard workers’ rights.

In both the public and private sector, government and employers have been notorious for turning their backs on workers as they continue to earn slave wages that do not allow them and their families to live above the poverty datum line.

The informal sector, which has absorbed the bulk of former and potential workers, who have failed to secure employment in the formal sector over the years, is under unprecedented threat as local and central government actors team up to summarily demolish some informal traders’ market stalls without following the principles of natural justice thereby depriving them of their only source of livelihood.

The actions by local and central government operatives are in clear violation of the law as the authorities have not given the required notice to informal traders in terms of the Urban Councils Act, and have not given them an opportunity to contest the legality of the actions through courts of law.

While local and central government bureaucrats have advanced a whole miscellany of reasons and official explanations behind the demolitions, the timing and magnitude is morally and legally wrong.

Moreover, notwithstanding the legality or otherwise of these actions, the manner of the demolitions is grossly and unjustifiably inhumane, and amounts to inhuman or degrading treatment of citizens in contravention of section 53 of the Constitution.

The actions by local councils and government have precipitated a humanitarian crisis at a time when workers and their families are grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, where people’s livelihoods are severely compromised with severe food shortages and rising unemployment levels.

Instead of guaranteeing the right to tenancy of informal traders, who in some instances are licensed and have been paying levies, local authorities have negated their contractual obligations and have in fact been complicit in the open and criminal facilitation of the demolition of vendors’ market stalls and the concomitant destruction of livelihoods.

The deprivation of the right to property guaranteed under section 71 of the Constitution and the violation of the right to freedom of profession, trade or occupation provided in section 64 of the Constitution under the veil of “helping to prevent the spread of coronavirus” violates the economic and social rights of informal traders and their families, as they are being deprived of their only source of income and livelihood. In addition Article 22 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Zimbabwe is a state party, guarantees all people the right to economic and social development.

Accordingly, ZLHR calls upon:

  • Government to fully implement the High Court order and provide personal protective equipment, clothing, and other accessories to frontline medical practitioners;
  • Local and central government to immediately halt all the demolitions of informal traders’ market stalls and workspaces until such time as a planned and humane relocation can take place;
  • Government to allow a full and independent audit of the consequences of the demolitions and to investigate all allegations of unlawful deprivation of property and to prosecute all alleged offenders;
  • Local and central government to provide full compensation to all persons whose property was demolished;
  • All employers and government to pay all workers a minimum living wage above the Poverty Datum Line and improve their working conditions including access to health-care.
  • Government and the legislature to immediately align all labour laws with the Constitution, which has been outstanding for several years.
  • Government to stop the prosecution and persecution of bonafide trade unionists for exercising their labour rights and fundamental rights and freedoms.

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

Source: Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights

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